Last summer Bryan Colangelo picked up a megaphone, jumped on Billy Penn’s shoulders, atop city hall, and announced his intentions of trading one of his bigs before the season started. Even going as far as saying he would be disappointed if he had to go into the season with all 3 still on the roster. As soon as he finished speaking, he unbuttoned his draws and pissed goodbye to any leverage he may have had.
A game of cat and mouse ensued. Why would a rival GM give you their best offer after you made clear you needed to get a deal done? Danny Ainge quickly pivoted from considering one of the three 2016 first round picks he possessed and reportedly offered his 2018 first round pick, plus a young player instead. Colangelo fielded calls from other teams as well, for both Nerlens and Jahlil but ultimately decided against dealing one of the two.
Clearly he felt teams were not offering fair value at the time he held a press conference early in the season stating he was not going to make a bad trade for this organization. This was an attempt to regain some of the value he splattered onto the Philadelphia streets. He tried putting toothpaste back into the tube.
The season started just about as bad as it possibly could have with Okafor still nursing the knee injury that cost him the final 30 games of his rookie campaign (yes the knee injury team doctors called minor) and Nerlens making his frustrations known on media day.
However following a 7-24 start to the season, Brett Brown replaced Okafor in the rotation with Noel. Noel helped the team win 11 of their next 16, showing no ill effects from his minor knee procedure that caused him to miss the first month and a half of the season.
Noel fit Brett Brown’s playing style to a T. It allowed the Sixers to play the same defensive scheme whether Embiid was on the court or not. His athleticism was on full display and the work he put in on his jumper was obvious, highlighted by a game winning 14 footer shortly after knocking in two clutch foul shots against the Bucks on January 25th. This offensive improvement was a pleasant surprise.
On the defensive end Noel was as advertised, helping the Sixers turn into a top 2 defensive team in the month of January. Statistically he is a top 5 rim protector in the NBA, a trait every team covets.
His value was obvious to coach Brown, which led to nightly DNP-CD’s (Did not play-coaches decision) for Okafor. Trade rumors followed.
Once again, Colangelo made his trade intentions public when he announced Okafor was out of the lineup due to ongoing trade talks even though another DNO-CD would not have raised any eyebrows. Though uncommon, this has been seen many times in the sports world right before a trade is announced.
Okafor said his goodbyes to his teammates and arena employees. A trade was surely all but complete as the Sixers boarded their team plane for Charlotte, without Jahlil Okafor.
Whoops. Never mind. Shockingly, Colangelo had the publicly disgraced Okafor rejoin the team in Boston just hours before the All Star break. Okafor handled Colangelo’s blunder like a true professional, saying all the right things in what was clearly an extremely awkward situation for everyone involved.
However, for Colangelo, there was no recovering from this mishap. This was the final straw. Colangelo had to either give Okafor away for nothing or keep him. There was no in between. But Bryan could not possibly want the criticism he would surely receive from letting the deadline pass with all three bigs still on his roster could he?
By this time a handful of bigs had already been dealt, the market was collapsing. As the deadline approached Colangelo decided to cut his losses in what felt like a rushed decision to trade Noel and take on the contract of Andrew Bogut for a mere two second round picks (Already had 14 of them over the next four years prior to this trade) and Justin Anderson.
The wording of the trade was a parting gift from The Mavs to Bryan Colangelo. We can call it a protected 1st round pick all we want, knowing there is exactly zero chance of that conveying.
This feels similar to when the Phillies GM Ruben Amaro traded Cliff Lee the same day he signed Roy Holiday. Initially it seemed the moves were dependent upon each other, until you realized, wow we just gave away Cliff Lee for nothing.
Colangelo made it seem like the Sixers had to get rid of Noel. But if the team really wanted to get rid of him, how come we have heard nothing but Okafor trade rumors? Noel’s name did not pop up in rumors until the Okafor deal was dead. The team has enough 2nd round picks to fill a 15 man roster already, how do two more help?
If teams are really lining up for their turn to max Noel this summer, wouldn’t one of them be willing to offer more than this for the guarantee of signing him this summer (because of the right to match any offer)? And if teams really are willing to max him this summer, Colangelo could have surely received at least a similar return next year right? Plus by then they would have a much better idea if Embiid can stay healthy or not. Imagine a playoff run next season where Embiid has to miss a few weeks down the stretch due to a minor injury, and the Sixers, most likely still below the cap (it will be hard for them to spend all of their cap space this summer) need every win they can get. Then what? This was a move that did not need to be made right now unless the return was worth it.
Whether trading Nerlens Noel was the right decision or not can be debated with valid points from both sides of the argument. The fact Bryan Colangelo completely misread the market and mishandled the situation is not debatable and that is the most troublesome aspect of this situation.
Does he have a plan? He made a win now move to acquire Ersan Illyasova in October (After the Simmons injury), only to make two “lose now” trades at the deadline. Even though he ripped the prior regime and told the fan base he would never tank, the Sixers find themselves in tank mode once again for the remainder of the season. That is truthfully their best bet at this point, but the decision to trade for Ersan could be the difference in having two top 5 picks this June compared to just one pick in the 4-8 range. Ersan absolutely helped the Sixers win a few games they otherwise would not have, which could have positioned them in the bottom 3, pushing the Lakers out to 4.
The Sixers fan base want two things. They want transparency and they wants a plan. Right now they have neither.