Philadelphia 76ers president Bryan Colangelo finally addressed what everyone has known for quite some time: the Sixers have a massive logjam in their young frontcourt and are willing to part with one of their big men in Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, and Richaun Holmes.
However, during an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio on Wednesday, Colangelo did seem more inclined to deal Noel or Embiid rather than Okafor or Holmes and insisted Philadelphia wouldn’t make a deal simply for the sake of it.
“There’s no question you can look at our roster and say we have some imbalance, we’re top heavy, we’ve got some good talent there,” Colangelo said, “whether its Nerlens at the five with a certain skill set in terms of being of a defensive player, you’ve got Jahlil who’s more of an offensive player, he’s got a lot of post action, he steps outside now and hits that 15,18-foot shot. And then you’ve got Joel that we talked about.
“We’ve also got a young developing player in Richaun Holmes that we like quite a bit as well. So at the end of the day we’ve got a top heavy roster and we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do with everybody.”
Noel, who Philadelphia selected No. 6 overall in 2013 despite a serious knee injury that kept him out until 2014, has become one of the best young defensive big men in the league and led the Sixers in rebounds (8.1) and steals (1.8) last season and was second in blocks (1.5). Still, it became abundantly clear last season that Noel and post-oriented scorer Okafor find it difficult to share the floor.
Noel, in particular, is rendered less effective when Okafor’s on the court. According to NBA.com, Noel averages 1.2 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.6 steals, and 0.5 blocks less a game and has a negative plus-minus of six when on the floor with Okafor. He’s also afforded 1.7 fewer shots inside five feet, where Noel is most effective on offense.
In turn, Okafor also receives two fewer looks in the paint with Noel on the other side of the block, but Okafor still excelled during his rookie season with 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds on 50.8 percent shooting and made the All-Rookie first team.
Despite being a defensive liability at times, Okafor’s ceiling, at the moment, appears much higher than Noel’s and the Sixers would prefer a center to help stretch defenses for recent No. 1 overall pick and new franchise cornerstone Ben Simmons. And just last month before the start of free agency, the Raptors and Sixers were reportedly engaged in talks over Noel.
Though, in fairness, Okafor was also linked to the Boston Celtics in trade chatter earlier this month and also before last season’s trade deadline.
Colangelo admitted he’s fielded calls for his plethora of bigs, but flatly denied he was actively testing Okafor’s trade value.
“When you look at the calls that are coming in, yea, quite frankly everybody’s trying to poach a big man from us,” he said. “I told Jahlil this morning at practice, I said, ‘Listen I love the way you handled it the other day ‘so called sources,' I blasted the same guy cause I was a little concerned about these unknown sources saying that we’re out shopping him.
“It’s completely untrue, and I would tell you, again, we have to listen, that’s part of my job, I have to make this roster better. I have to make this basketball team better, but to classify it or characterize it as ‘shopping’ him that’s not the case at all”
Since the seven-foot Embiid has yet to make his NBA debut due to an ongoing foot injury over the last two years, the former Kansas star would seem to be the player Philadelphia is more comfortable moving. However, when healthy Embiid could be a dominant force with his athleticism and touch around the basket. Furthermore, until he plays for a prolonged period at the professional level, no team will likely make a deal for an oft-injured big man.
Holmes, 22, is also a cheaper frontcourt player who’s under contract until 2019 at the latest and making a little more than $1 million a season. The Sixers could use his size off the bench and at little risk to their salary cap, thus making Noel even more expendable.
And Colangelo admitted he’s uncomfortable with the way the roster is currently structured.
“Absolutely not,” Colangelo chuckled. “But I think what we are comfortable doing is saying we’re not going to make a bad deal just to make a deal. So when I say in a playful way ‘no I’m not comfortable’ I think we could be a better basketball team if we can distribute that talent better and maybe take one of those assets and address other needs on the roster.
“But I think right now again, it’s best to say, we like all of them, we want to see if we can most the out of each of them in terms of contributions to this team. But at the end of the day, the reality says probably one has to go at some point but only when the deal is right.”