After talking with reporters for a few minutes at practice Tuesday, Sixers head coach Brett Brown, much to his surprise, hadn't been asked about Nerlens Noel.
So Brown brought up the topic himself.
“Anyone want to talk about Nerlens?” Brown said with a smile.
Less than 24 hours earlier, before the Sixers' preseason loss to Cleveland in Columbus, Ohio, Brown had revealed that he didn't expect Noel to play this season. Noel, the Sixers' prized draft-night acquisition, is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in February.
“I want to talk about Nerlens," Brown said. "Of course we want him back, but that decision is going to be made by a lot of smarter people then me. Doctors, trainers and the obvious people, and so who knows what is going to happen with Nerlens? I've gone to media training this morning before I came here, and we hope he can come back. So since you didn’t ask about Nerlens, I thought I would just bring it up."
It's a worthy topic given what Noel represents for fans this franchise: hope.
"We get it. I get it. The coaching staff, teammates -- we want to see him back," Brown said. "How can you not want to see that man back? With his bounce and size and athleticism? ... We want to see him. I get the disappointment, and so the club will make a responsible decision based on his future."
We can only hope the long season doesn’t steal Brown’s humor and his willingness to be forthcoming. The Sixers are building a reputation, and it is that they are in for a long year. Throughout this preseason various scouts and player personnel people around the league have stopped to share that sentiment.
It will be a different year for sure. Wins will be scarce. When the Sixers first decided to start from scratch by trading Jrue Holiday on draft night, fans applauded the boldness of president/general manger Sam Hinkie.
But seeing the product during the preseason -- they're 2-4 -- and learning that Noel may indeed be sidelined for the entire year has those same fans disgruntled before opening night has even arrived.
It wasn't the first time Brown said he wasn’t expecting Nerlens to participate. During Saturday's practice at the Palestra, he said as much -- but included two other teammates in his statement.
“You can carry a roster of 15. So right off the bat you start the season with four of them out,” Brown said. “Nerlens, Kwame (Brown), Arnett (Moultrie) and Jason Richardson. And there is no daylight except Kwame at some point. The other ones are done.”
The other ones are done.
Brown doesn't expect Noel, Moultrie (ankle) or Richardson (knee) to play this year.
I understand that Moultrie and Richardson being sidelined for the season resonates little with fans. I also understand the instinct to think Noel is another Andrew Bynum situation -- the acquisition of damaged goods.
Unfortunately, jumping to that conclusion is not accurate. Their injuries are different; their bodies are different; their ages are different.
And while we are on the subject of Bynum, nothing was more frustrating than the false hope that was continually put out there last season that Bynum was progressing and would soon take the court.
Maybe Bynum really did experience multiple setbacks, but it came across as a façade.
This year’s team will struggle, and even Noel can’t change that. Not as a rookie who, if they did bring him back, hasn’t played basketball in a year.
The good news is plenty of NBA players have recovered from torn ACLs: Al Jefferson, David West, Baron Davis, Jamal Crawford -- and hopefully we are seeing the same for Derrick Rose.
Noel’s time will come to join that list, but like those who recovered before him, the timetable is lengthy and has its stages.