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By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Philadelphia knew that the Sixers traded for Nerlens Noel over a month ago. They traded for him officially two weeks ago. And here we sit, on July 23rd, as the Sixers finally introduce the player they traded Jrue Holiday for, at a time when Philadelphia’s focus is on Eagles training camp and the Phillies trade deadline.
And this all seems just fine with Sam Hinkie and the Sixers.
Much has been made of Sam Hinkie’s presence, or lack thereof in the media. Depending on who you talk to, Hinkie is either brilliant, or the invisible man.
“Sam’s just a genius,” Noel said on Tuesday, referring to Hinkie’s drafting of Michael Carter-Williams, one of Noel’s closest friends. “How could you think of something like that? To have two players that played AAU together, already have a great relationship, I mean point guard and big man, you’ve got to put a lot of thinking into that. I mean, a lot of credit goes to him for building that as a foundation going into the future.”
Jrue Holiday was once considered a part of that foundation, and Hinkie made it clear that he understands what the team gave up in the All-Star point guard.
“To lose him is not easy,” Hinkie said.
In the end, a chance to add a first round pick in the 2014 draft, take Carter-Williams with the 11th pick in this year’s draft, and add Noel, ended up being more than enough for Hinkie to take.
“We are excited and I am excited today to add Nerlens to our team,” Hinkie said. “Rim protector is at a real premium in our league right now, a real premium. Athletic players have always been at a premium. Nerlens is both. Nerlens is a guy who brings it on every possession he’s on the floor, who is constantly trying to protect the rim as drivers attack. And he’s a guy who we think will fit the style of play that we hope to play here in Philadelphia. He’s also motivated and hungry to return and this is the part where we have to be reasonable in a whole bunch of ways.”
It’s almost certain that without the ACL tear that Noel suffered in February, he’d have been the first pick in the draft. Hinkie made it clear that they’re going to take their time in bringing Noel back from the injury.
“The most important thing, should be the long term health and safety of our players. Nothing else matters as much as that matters. And so as this plays out, we will give him all the resources necessary, and all the best medical people we can put in front of him, both here and in Birmingham where he’s been doing his rehab,” Hinkie said. “I’ll say one thing that might be different. There will be someone on our staff, me, asking the same question all the time. ‘If what we care about most, is Nerlens’ long term health, in 15 years, what would we do?’ I’ll ask that every time.”
Hinkie said the team will meet with doctors tomorrow, and begin to lay out a plan for Noel’s return. So far the reports on his rehab from Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery, have been positive.
“I’m at the 4.5 month point. I’m doing very well,” Noel said. “I’m in Birmingham Alabama, doing six hours of rehab a day. I’m just being careful with it. Doing it day by day. I’m staying focused on it. When I feel like I’m ready to come back, both physically and mentally, I’ll take that step.”
“I just started doing layups. I have been able to run up and down the court. Doing squatting. I do the AlterG (anti-gravity treadmill) for cardio.”
It’s on the defensive end where Noel will earn his paycheck, but the ceiling for him offensively is less of a sure thing.
“Offensively, he’s got a lot of upside. He’s unselfish and he passes,” hinkie said. “In a way that will really give him an edge, and make his teammates really love playing with him. Not only is he cleaning up their messes on the other end, but he’s willing to share the ball and move on offense. Like a lot of 19 year-olds, there’s a lot of basketball development to come.”
“I think I need to get better on every aspect of my game,” Noel said. “Putting on good size, footwork, low post. A key part of my game I need to work on his shooting. If I’m able to develop a 15 footer I’ll be able to use that to my advantage.”
Hinkie didn’t escape a rare meeting with the press corps without being asked about the Sixers coaching search. They are the lone team in the NBA without a coach.
“We’re following a process there. Sort of the one we laid out early on. One where we talk to a number of people, some of which you’ve heard about lately,” Hinkie said. “I was in Las Vegas last week doing a lot of that. And I’m doing more of that this week. We’re focused on getting the right coach. The right coach for our team. Someone that can help define the culture. That I think Nerlens can be a big part in helping shape as well. Of like, serious, every day, hard working, selfless, highly competitive players, sort of willing to work on their game when nobody’s watching. Work on their game at night.”
Hinkie was asked if the rebuilding process has stunted how attractive the job may be.
“I’ve seen very strong interest. In part because they see what we’re trying to do. It’s fairly obvious what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to build something. Trying to build something special,” Hinkie said.