The Philadelphia 76ers are in a rigorous stretch of rebuilding, but they possess one of the more talented young rosters in the NBA.
The only issue is, most of their talent consists of power forwards and centers. The 76ers front office has looked to the draft to find the talent they wish to build around, but simply made a huge mess of it.
Drafting a big man in the top ten for four consecutive NBA drafts has done nothing but stunt the growth of their young players.
One of those big men is former Kentucky Wildcats star Nerlens Noel, who was the first of the 76ers’ crop of frontcourt players. After missing his first NBA season recovering from that dreaded ACL tear at Kentucky, Noel came back and impressed everybody in his official rookie season. Earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First Team in the 2014-2015 season, Noel showcased great skill playing at power forward and proved to be a defensive star already.
Then, everything began to go downhill. The 76ers drafted center Jahlil Okafor with the 3rd overall pick the following year, and while Noel's numbers improved alongside Okafor in 2015-2016 looming speculation began to rise. Philadelphia knew that Joel Embiid, the 76ers top pick from the 2014 draft, was going to come back eventually and inevitably start to crowd up their frontcourt.
On top of all that the organization knew early on in the season that another elite frontcourt prospect was about to be brought in, as Ben Simmons was too good to pass up.
This, in turn, made it clear that at least one of these talented big men were going to be dealt away at some point. While it has yet to happen at this moment, growing tensions support that it is going to. Joel Embiid's emergence this year has certainly been a blessing this year, but it is having its consequences.
The one suffering the most from this conundrum is Noel, who is only averaging 9 minutes per game since coming back from injury. He made sure to let everyone hear about it.
Assuming that the inevitable is soon to come for the 76ers and Noel, numerous teams have shown interest in acquiring the young Kentucky product. These are the five most likely trade destinations for Nerlens Noel.
The Portland Trail Blazers have reportedly shown interest in acquiring Noel, and with good reason. While the Blazers' backcourt in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum is one of the best in the league, their frontcourt is a polar opposite.
While Mason Plumlee has been a decent contributor down low this year, his services are limited. Ed Davis and Meyers Leonard can only give you so much, and Noah Vonleh simply isn't a starting-caliber NBA player.
The Blazers are a young team that is striving to contend in the Western Conference, and acquiring a prolific defender like Noel could benefit this team tremendously. Simply having the prescience of a center as talented and skilled as Noel is could help Portland make a push to the playoffs. Considering that the Blazers are currently on the outside of the playoff picture, you can expect them to make a push for Noel's talents.
Any of the players not named Lillard or McCollum for Portland will likely be available for trade in a situation like this. While Allen Crabbe is the Blazers' most heralded reserve player, considering they paid $75 million to re-sign him, it would take a lot in order for Portland to give him up. However, if they desperately want Noel, they may not have a choice.
There is also the possibility of Evan Turner being shipped to return to Philadelphia, where he was originally drafted and began his career. Other players such as Al-Farouq Aminu or Moe Harkless could be included as well.
The Phoenix Suns seem to be the team most interested in a player like Nerlens Noel, and it is no secret that they like Kentucky players. In this scenario, we could see a Kentucky-for-Kentucky swap. The Suns frontcourt consists of an aging Tyson Chandler, Alex Len, who many consider to be a bust, and two rookies in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. While they are all quality players, none offer much production on the defensive end.
Nerlens Noel could fit right into a talented starting lineup that the Suns possess, and grant the rim protection and overall defensive prescience that could very well push Phoenix over the hump. A player like Noel also takes some of the load off of a team's backcourt, in this case, Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker.
The most likely trade piece in this would be another former Kentucky star, Brandon Knight. The 76ers lack reliable scoring from their backcourt, and if there is one thing Knight can offer a team, it is scoring. Dealing Knight would also solve Phoenix's overflowing guard dilemma, giving the team more solidarity in their lineups.
Another potential trade piece on this potential deal could be Tyler Ulis. While it is unlikely that Phoenix would want to ship Ulis after what they've already invested into him, he could be a piece that Philadelphia desires. Names like PJ Tucker and Jared Dudley could be dealt in this scenario as well.
The Celtics seem to be that team that is supposedly interested in everybody, and Noel is no exception. While Boston is always in discussions for more high-level players, a trade for Noel seems to be their most realistic bet for this year. One this is for sure, the Celtics have the pieces to get it done.
Point guard Marcus Smart would be the most likely player to be shipped to Philadelphia in this. We could potentially see names like James Young, Terry Rozier, Demetrius Jackson, or even Jae Crowder involved as well.
More valuable than Boston's players, however, could be Boston's draft picks. Thanks to various trades that the Celtics' front office managed beautifully, Boston has a surplus of first round picks available for the future. This includes next year's draft, which is highly regarded as one of the best draft classes in decades. Particularly at the point guard position, something that the 76ers vitally need.
For the Celtics, Noel could be a key piece that makes them an elite contender. A perimeter oriented team, Noel is a player that Boston could place right next to Al Horford down low and it should work beautifully.
This could actually happen? Yep, and it is a terrifying thought. The Golden State Warriors are a dynasty and undoubtedly the best team in the NBA right now. Despite this, they have close to no solidarity at the center position.
Though Javale McGee has come along nicely the past few games, there's no guarantee how long the "Shaqtin a Fool" king will be able to contribute as a starter. Even though the Warriors are neck deep in financial discrepancy and still need to pay Stephen Curry his money, this is a deal that could happen.
Noel is still under rookie salary, which makes it easier for a team like the Warriors with little cap room to be able to afford him. While it will likely cost Golden State one of their prized reserves, either Shaun Livingston or former 76er Andre Iguodala, gaining Noel could be the piece that all but solidifies the Warrior's 2nd NBA championship in 3 years.
The Lakers showing interest in Nerlens Noel is certainly interesting considering the money they just gave Timofey Mozgov. While Mozgov has produced better than some may have expected, it still feels like Los Angeles needs an upgrade at the position. Another young player to fill in with the other excellent young pieces the Lakers have, Noel could be the finishing piece to Los Angeles' rebuild.
The main concern with this would be how much, or who in particular, the Lakers would be willing to send off to Philadelphia. Backcourt players such as Nick Young and Louis Williams are certainly bargaining pieces, then again those have been arguably the Lakers' two best players this season.
A role player like Marcelo Huertas and future draft picks could get this deal done as well, depending on how willing the 76ers are to get rid of Noel. This isn't a move that the Lakers absolutely need to make, but rather one they should think about and likely benefit from if they do.
Regardless of where he winds up, Nerlens Noel's tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers is likely coming to an end before the end of this season. Whoever is fortunate enough to acquire his talents is getting an absolute stud on the defensive end, who can potentially turn a franchise around if utilized correctly.