By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
While experts and casual fans alike continue to debate what the Sixers should do with their upcoming third overall pick, a report came out Tuesday about a former Philadelphia first-round pick. Per Scout.com, current Dallas Mavericks center Nerlens Noel will have multiple clubs poised to offer him a max contract when he hits restricted free agency this summer.
As a reminder, Noel’s max represents a 4-year deal for around $108.6M (with Dallas able to offer 5 years for about $146.5M. At the moment, this report is simply a rumor from an anonymous NBA source, so let’s not take it as gospel, but it does demonstrate how highly the 23-year-old big man is valued around the league.
The report also presents an interesting litmus test in how people evaluate Philadelphia’s handling of the Noel situation. On the one hand, with Joel Embiid already dubbed the franchise superstar, people will say it would have been unwise to pay $25M per year for a backup center.
Let’s ignore the fact that the Sixers only gave Embiid and Noel 8 minutes of playing time together to see if they could coexist (during which the team had a positive-33.1 net rating), versus 80 minutes with Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. We’ll presume that Noel couldn’t play alongside Embiid and he would have been nothing more than a backup receiving 15-20 minutes of playing time per game. Then, yes, you wouldn’t want to shell out a 9-digit contract for such a player.
However, the reality that Noel is worthy of a max deal shows how significantly Sixers management undervalued him. First, they had the opportunity to extend Noel last summer. Noel as an hyper-qualified reserve for $16-18M per year would be a lot more palatable, especially considering the team hadn’t even seen a healthy Embiid on the court yet. If the team needed to move him later to free up cap space, Noel on that deal would have been an extremely valuable trade chip.
Of course, they didn’t extend him, nor did they trade him last summer when Noel would have had significantly more value with a full season left on his rookie deal. Instead, Bryan Colangelo waited until the team had practically no leverage left, and came away with a sack of beans in the form of Justin Anderson and second-round picks.
While Noel will probably be better off outside of Philadelphia, where his friend Joel Embiid would likely have stifled his long-term prospects, it will still be bittersweet to see him strike it big elsewhere. The Sixers had a very good player on a rookie deal, and rather than doing everything they could to help him flourish, or trading him for a return commensurate with his talent level, incoming management basically punted on the whole situation. It’s not the biggest of mistakes, but every decision looms large on the path to contention.