The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

There's your Philadelphia 76ers season in a nutshell, huh? Nerlens Noel gets traded for an all-lemon pack of Starbursts, Ben Simmons' right foot is still apparently stuck in a beartrap, Joel Embiid can't get himself dismissed from the nurse's office, and Jahlil Okafor is forced back into +1 status after everyone else passed on going to the concert with Bryan Colangelo -- and the Ballers still go out and beat one of the best teams in the East in their first game back from the All-Star break. Nearly everything about the Sixers is depressing right now, except for the team themselves. They're cool. 

Kudos to Brett Brown, man. The team is playing with such fluency and energy right now that it can withstand some losses in personnel without the drop-off being particularly dramatic -- at least for the moment. Replacing Embiid and Noel with Okafor and Holmes for as long as we'll have to do it will catch up with us in time, but for now, all you can do is marvel at the pace, cohesion and (with some mildly glaring moments of exception) discipline that Brown has the guys playing at the moment. I doubt there are five coaches in the league having a more impressive season than him right now. 

But the players were pretty good in this one, too. Dario Saric had 20-11-4 in his first start in three weeks, continuing his unlikely Rookie of the Year surge with his third-straight double-double and fourth game of 20-plus in his last six games. The All-Star Break hasn't cooled Robert Covington's hot hand, as the shooter went 5-9 from deep last night and is now 17-31 on threes over his last four games, also posting a 20-10 night with his 25 points and 11 boards. (Also three assists and four steals, whatever.) Richaun Holmes dunked over some people and reminded a handful of fans why they've gotten way too excited about him at various points earlier in the year. Good times were had by all. 

Games like last night's also just remind you how marginal the difference between winning and losing is. As they've been wont to do forever, the Sixers blew their considerable lead to the Wizards late in this one, which would've undoubtedly resulted in a tragic loss in years past. But these days, the leads are a little bigger going into the Sixers' fourth-quarter tailspins, and their defense is just a little tighter on critical possessions, and that's the difference between losing on a Bradley Beal buzzer-beater and hitting just enough free throws to squeak out a mildly secure 120-112 victory. 

Anyway, after an impossibly discouraging week of Sixers happenings, it turns out some actual Sixers basketball is just what we needed. Hopefully their level of play will continue to get better as news of their off-court developments invariably keeps getting worse .

Process behind Sixers’ Nerlens Noel trade as bad as deal itself

Process behind Sixers’ Nerlens Noel trade as bad as deal itself

As recently as December, Bryan Colangelo insisted the Sixers would not trade one of their centers just for the sake of clearing up the logjam in the club’s frontcourt. “I will not make a bad deal for this organization,” the general manager said.

What changed in the past two months?

On Thursday, Colangelo sent Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks for a conditional first-round draft choice that in all likelihood will become a pair of second-round picks; Justin Anderson, a second-year prospect with nowhere near Noel’s upside; and Andrew Bogut, who may never even wear a Sixers uniform (perhaps the best case scenario, in all honesty). This is an objectively bad deal for the Sixers!

Sure, there are numerous explanations for the disappointing return on Noel. The NBA is well aware the Sixers have too many centers, so Colangelo was bargaining from a position of weakness. The Sacramento Kings didn’t do the Sixers any favors, either, by woefully short-changing themselves in the DeMarcus Cousins swap. And Noel will be a restricted free agent come July, creating the kind of uncertainty that tends to hurt value.

Yet none of those excuses justifies Colangelo’s decision, and the reason is very simple. There was absolutely nothing compelling the Sixers to make this move right now.

If Noel wasn’t gone at the trade deadline, then what? They risked losing him in free agency and winding up with nothing in return.

First, to that argument, the return the Sixers did get on Noel feels like nothing. Even a top-18 protected pick isn’t much of an asset to the franchise at this point, while two seconds are essentially meaningless. Bogut is, too, for that matter. Anderson is not without some promise, although his ceiling probably isn’t as high as Noel’s floor.

Nothing the Sixers accomplished here is going to help the team win a championship.

Of course, the fear that Noel would walk away and leave the Sixers with empty pockets is built on something of a faulty premise to begin with. That was only one potential outcome.

One possibility was also to make an actual attempt to re-sign Noel long-term. Another possibility was matching an offer sheet if those efforts ultimately failed. Another outcome still was a tepid market forcing him to accept the Sixers’ one-year qualifying offer.

By doing literally any of those things, the Sixers could have traded Noel at a later date. Even if Colangelo already determined the 22-year-old was not going to be part of the future, he could have waited to see if a better offer would materialize at a later date.

Any number of components would have changed over time. The Sixers could’ve dumped Jhalil Okafor, creating room in their frontcourt and restoring the organization’s bargaining power in the process. The market would’ve had a chance to reset after the disastrous Cousins trade made moving bigs for any semblance of value next to impossible. By merely holding on to Noel, the Sixers could’ve created the perception they just may want to keep him around, allowing the front office to raise the asking price.

An injury to a key player could've driven up Noel's value for a desperate team. His own development might've made him a more attractive piece around the league. Who knows, maybe Colangelo would've come to appreciate Noel's role with the Sixers in the meantime — just saying.

Would there be risks involved with that approach?

Not any greater than the risk of getting fleeced.

There’s little doubt that if Noel went on to sign an offer sheet in July and the Sixers didn’t match, the organization would be facing backlash as a result of that turn of events as well. While it’s a little difficult to accept that could’ve transpired, we can’t pretend the scenario didn’t exist.

Regardless, trading Noel for this package feels like a give-up move on the part of Colangelo. It seems like exactly the thing he promised he wouldn’t do, which was move one of the Sixers’ centers purely because they have too many.

To make matters worse, the timing of all of this suggests Colangelo allowed the trade deadline and Noel’s status as an impending restricted free agent to dictate his decision-making, which is a sin far greater than simply making a bad deal.

That’s the sign of a bad process.

Joel Embiid really looking forward to facing Nerlens Noel

Joel Embiid really looking forward to facing Nerlens Noel

In case you haven’t heard, the Sixers traded big man Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks before Thursday's deadline (see story).

While Noel's former teammates were saddened by the trade, including Joel Embiid, the rookie big man is already looking forward to squaring off against his friend.

The Sixers face Noel and the Mavericks on March 17 at the Wells Fargo Center.