Nerlens Noel: “Something Needs To Happen” About Sixers Frontcourt Logjam

On the eve of training camp, Nerlens Noel called the Sixers situation, where they have three natural centers, "silly"

Nerlens Noel came off the bench to score 16 points and collect 9 rebounds in the 76ers 113-88 loss to the Charlotte Hornets | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Nerlens Noel called the Sixers situation, where they have three natural centers, “silly” | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Media day in the NBA is typically one of unrestrained (and unrealistic) optimism.

Players are in the best physical shape of their lives, career-best fitness as Brett Brown likes to call it. Every single one of them. They’ve all added something new to their game over the offseason. Every physical ailment holding back a player is gone and in the rear view mirror.

This year, Nerlens Noel doesn’t share that sense of optimism.

Speaking to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Noel expressed frustration with the 76ers roster, which includes three centers selected in the top six in their respective NBA draft pick: Noel (6th overall in 2013), Joel Embiid (3rd overall in 2014), and Jahlil Okafor (3rd in 2015).

“I think something needs to happen,” Noel told the Inquirer. “You have three starting-caliber centers. And it’s just not going to work to anybody’s advantage having that on the same team. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated.”

Noel insisted that he didn’t have a problem with his teammates, the city, or the organization.

“Don’t get me wrong. We all get along great on the court and off the court,” Noel told the Inquirer.

“I’m here to do my job and play as hard as I can play for the city of Philadelphia,” Noel continued. “I’ve always loved the fans from the jump. It’s probably one of the realest cities in the country with just genuine passion and love for the sport.”

The quotes from Noel came just a few days after 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo tried to downplay the need to trade one of his centers.

“We’re excited to have three talented young players that can play that position,” Colangelo said last Friday when the Sixers opened their new practice facility in Camden. “The discomfort comes in trying to manage and maintain the happiness of three talented young players. That’s something that I think will work itself out.”

The Sixers began experimenting with Noel playing the power forward spot back in the 2014-15 season, when Noel started alongside Furkan Aldemir for the final ten games of the season. Originally, the intent was to prepare Noel to play next to Joel Embiid, but that shifted to playing alongside Jahlil Okafor when Embiid suffered another setback with his right foot and the team drafted Okafor in the 2015 draft.

It seems like the 76ers, and Brett Brown, wanted to get Noel back to doing what he does best: playing near the rim defensively and maximizing his defensive impact.

“He is a modern-day five man. He is an elite defensive presence that can run the floor, block shots, pick and roll and go get lobs,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said to members of the media a few weeks ago. “There are portions of all of us where you want to lock into taking a weakness and developing it. How can that not be true. I think I’m at a stage for me where it’s ‘let’s take what he does and tap into that’. And what he does is elite.”

That is, of course, difficult to do in the current environment. Brown also mentioned that Joel Embiid is a center, and he wants to keep him near the hoop defensively as well. With the struggles Okafor had defending the perimeter last season, it puts into question how much time Noel can realistically be expected to be at his optimal position.

It’s sounding like Noel may be growing weary of playing out of position.

“I think I sacrificed a lot,” Noel said in the interview with Pompey. “At this point, there’s really not too much that I’m capable of sacrificing.”

With media day later today, and training camp starting on Tuesday, how the team, and Noel’s teammates, react to his comments will be worth watching.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.