Still recovering, Noel set to travel with Sixers


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.

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

MIAMI — It’s a cautious optimism to be sure — there can be no other type for the Sixers right now given their history of injuries — but you can tell the team is starting to get excited about Joel Embiid.

In Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat (see game story), Embiid scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The 7-0 center, who missed his first two NBA seasons because of foot surgeries, made 8 of 16 shots and 2 of 2 on free throws, adding a game-high nine rebounds.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a complete player — that’s what I do,” Embiid said. “I’m starting to get easy points.

“I just got better every game [in the preseason], defensively, offensively.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he is still learning how to best use Embiid.

Brown added that the rust is apparent in Embiid’s game. But …

“He is as self-taught as any player I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He grew up in Cameroon and hasn’t played a lot (because of injuries). But he studies, he looks at stuff. He pays attention. He’s instinctively curious.

“There’s a lot of stuff in his head that he thinks through. His mind is quicker than his feet. At times, his core, his balance and his decision-making are off because his mind is working faster than his body.”

Embiid scored most of his buckets on Friday at close range — a finger roll, a tip-in, a couple of put-back dunks, an alley-oop dunk and a fast-break layup. But he did make a 10-foot jumper and took — but missed — a three-point try.

“He does stuff in a game that makes you step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Brown said. “He will trail and hit a three. He will have a pound, pound drop-step, dunk.

“Like a traditional post, he will turn his face and make a bank shot. He has that up-and-under stuff.

“But he’s raw. His preseason has been highlighted by those few things that you notice, all under the umbrella of, ‘He really has a chance to be very, very good.’"

Brown was asked to summarize the Sixers' 2-5 preseason, and he called it a “completely erratic” exhibition season because of injuries.

“Jahlil [Okafor] hasn’t practiced,” Brown said. “Joel has been steady and incremental. I think we all see that Dario Saric has got a lot to offer. I think the pairing of Joel and Dario was solid.

“We’ve seen Jerami [Grant] have a really good preseason. Richaun Holmes has taken his opportunity to play big minutes. Those type of things come to my mind.”