Still recovering, Noel set to travel with Sixers

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Still recovering, Noel set to travel with Sixers

Typically, injured players don’t travel with the team in the NBA. Instead, they stay home so they can get the proper treatment and rehab in order to get back on the court.

But Nerlens Noel isn’t the typical injured player. The No. 6 overall pick in last June’s draft will hit the road with the Sixers while recovering from knee surgery through the early part of the season, and that includes the trip to Spain and England, where the team will play a couple of exhibitions.

The reason is pretty simple. At age 19, with just 24 college basketball games to his credit and two years removed from high school, new head coach Brett Brown says Noel needs to see the NBA life.

“I look forward to him traveling with the team and being a part of the team and being in the team meetings and video sessions and seeing a grumpy coach and a sad player and vice versa,” Brown said during a media session on Wednesday afternoon.

Why? Well, on one side it will keep Noel motivated. As Brown said, a player fighting for playing time or a roster spot doesn’t have to do anything special to get motivated to play. It’s kind of a given.

Noel, acquired on a draft day deal that sent All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans, will not be ready to play until December. To open training camp and head to Europe without the 19-year old would be like the NBA version of “Home Alone.”

So Brown and the teenaged center sat down for a chat a couple of days ago to talk about the early portion of the season when it hit the coach ...

“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘This is probably the most important meeting we’re having,’” Brown said. “Because it’s easy to motivate people that are playing and to monitor people that are playing. It’s really hard to take a 19-year-old kid that’s come out of Boston and all of a sudden has been paid a lot of money and put into the city of Philadelphia, and make sure that we help him stay on track and we help him understand what it takes to be a pro, and the long path that’s ahead for him.

“And the main thing that came out of that meeting is that, and ‘How do we do that?’”

Watching his new teammates go about the business of playing basketball while Noel can only watch could be a form of torture to some players. If anything, the rookie will get a chance to understand how he can help the team and how fast and physical the game can be.

However, Noel won’t learn what an 82-game season can do to a player. That’s something he’ll have to go through on his own. Because Noel hasn’t played a competitive game since tearing his ACL on Feb. 12, he is going to have a short learning curve.

So what the heck, take the kid on the road and let him get a taste of it.

From what Brown can tell so far, keeping Noel motivated might not be so difficult.

“When I see him, I see a wide-eyed, bouncing, competitive, can-be-what-he-wants-to-be player,” Brown said. “You feel the weight and responsibility to develop him and give him all that you can. I just feel like there’s a real freshness to his face, there’s a bounce and a spark to his personality. He’s endearing. I think he’s going to be special and has a chance to be really special.”

Big men down
When the Sixers open training camp on Saturday morning, big men Arnett Moultrie, Kwame Brown and Lavoy Allen will be nursing undisclosed injuries. Last season, Allen appeared in 79 games and showed his mettle a year after playing hard minutes in 12 playoff games as a rookie.

Moultrie is coming off a rookie season in which his minutes were limited and his development was negligible. He also started last season with an ankle injury that impeded his fitness.

Brown did not appear in any of the last 30 games last season, though not because he was injured. Nevertheless, an injury limited Brown to just nine games in 2011-12 while a rash of nicks and dings -- to go with ineffectiveness -- limited him to 22 games in 2012-13.

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Nerlens Noel’s recent comments on the logjam of big men on the Sixers' roster did not come as news to head coach Brett Brown. While Noel had not been this publicly outspoken on the issue, he and Brown have been having open discussions about it. 

“I have been talking to Nerlens a lot and I have a fondness for him,” Brown said Tuesday on the first day of training camp. “I don’t begrudge Nerlens Noel at all for what he said. I don’t have any problems with it.”

The Sixers' crowded frontcourt this season is a continuation of last season’s conundrum in which Brown was tasked with playing Noel and Jahlil Okafor, two natural centers, together. The depth has increased with the return of Joel Embiid and additions of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. 

So when Noel doubled down on Monday by saying, "I don't see a way it can work,” Brown recognized where the center's opinions were coming from as he enters his fourth season in the NBA. 

“I feel if we do anything well, we communicate with our players freely,” Brown said. “It is one hundred percent transparent — hard conversations ahead, easy conversations ahead. I have spoken with Nerlens about this a lot. 

“My messaging and my mood and attitude and things that come out of my mouth haven’t changed once. I feel very confident that I’m giving him the advice that he should hear from me and it still allows me to do my job. 

“We have talked about it freely, like I have talked about it with Jahlil and Joel. Those situations are part of pro sports. They’re ever-present with me and us right now.”

Noel has been a rare mainstay among a revolving door of players over the past three years. He is in a unique situation with Brown in that the two have experienced a long list of the team’s ups and downs together. Noel feels comfortable talking honestly with Brown about his viewpoints. 

“I’ve known Brett probably longer than most guys here and we’ve built a different type of relationship,” Noel said. “It’s been very front and forward and we talk and we keep it real. That’s what he’s been doing with me and that’s why I’m able to continue to talk to him about myself and him just telling me what position I’ll be in — he’ll try to put me in — to succeed.”

With Brown having an understanding of Noel, his focus is on what Noel can bring to the team this season. He believes Noel has an edge over Embiid and Okafor for minutes early on because Noel is the only one among the trio starting camp without restrictions from previous injuries. 

There is a tough competition for playing time among the bigs, and camp is about proving oneself through basketball, not through personal opinions. Brown was impressed on the first day of camp by the manner in which Noel approached the morning practice amid the comments.

“He has handled it with me and in the training session today like a pro,” Brown said. “He came to mean it. He didn’t back down at all. There was no moping or sulking or him being stubborn. He played. That’s what he has to do. I think that’s a real reflection of anybody of how you handle adversity. Today he handled it like a true pro and a true competitor.”

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

The Sixers finished in the basement of the NBA standings last season with a league-low 10 wins. But with the influx of young talent and addition of a couple veterans to the roster, the Las Vegas oddsmakers are betting on the Sixers to make some strides upward in the 2016-17 standings.  

Last week, the WestGate Superbook in Las Vegas set the Sixers' over/under for wins this season at an optimistic 27½, which was the fourth-lowest projection in the league.

Similarly, while Bovada is projecting another season of basketball filled with mostly losses in Philadelphia, the sportsbook doesn't view the Sixers as a shoo-in to finish as the league's worst team for the second consecutive year.

Per Bovada, the Sixers have the fourth-longest odds (125/1) to capture the Atlantic Divison title for the first time since 2001-02, beating out the Nets (250/1) by a considerable margin.

The favorite to win the division is the Celtics at 20/21, trailed closely by the defending division champion Raptors (21/20). The Knicks are between the Raptors and Sixers at 10/1.

The Sixers (150/1) also edged out the Nets (200/1) in odds to win the Eastern Conference championship. The two teams in the conference directly ahead of the Sixers in that futures bet are the Hornets (100/1) and Magic (50/1).

The Cavaliers are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference at 5/11, followed by the Celtics (5/1) and Raptors (14/1).

Least surprising of all futures odds, Bovada has the Sixers tied with four other teams for the longest odds to win the NBA title. The Nuggets, Kings, Nets and Suns were tied with the Sixers at 500/1 odds to win the Larry O'Brien trophy.

The early favorites to win it all are the same two teams that met in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Warriors are alone at top with the shortest odds at 4/5 trailed by the Cavaliers at 3/1.