Sixers Racing Against Heat to Complete Reunion With Ex-Lottery Pick: Report

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Getty Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat looks on during the second half against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Everyone loves a feel-good story, even ever-salty Philadelphia 76ers fans. Tyrese Maxey’s ascendancy last season brought a glow to the hearts of many in the City of Brotherly Love, as has Joel Embiid’s consistent dominance at the top of the MVP ladder.

But if the sources are correct, the Sixers could be headed for yet another happy ending. According to NBA insider Marc Stein, Philadelphia “continues” to ask about Pistons center Nerlens Noel in trade talks. But the Sixers aren’t alone.

“I feel like we’ve been writing for weeks about how resistant Detroit is to trading the likes of Bojan Bogdanović, Alec Burks and Saddiq Bey. The Piston most likely to be traded this week: Nerlens Noel. Sources say Miami and Philadelphia continue to register interest in Noel,” Stein wrote on Wednesday.

Noel, taken sixth overall in the 2013 NBA draft, spent two-and-a-half seasons with Philadelphia before getting shipped off to the Mavericks to pave the way for Embiid’s rise.

Though he failed to live up to the hype as a top-ten pick in Philadelphia — 10.5 points and 8.1 rebounds — the former Kentucky Wildcat has carved out a solid rotation role since then.

The Sixers Have Been Calling About Noel For Some Time

Perhaps Philadelphia’s interest in Noel is the league’s worst-kept secret. Over the weekend, James Edwards III of The Athletic reported that Philadelphia was one of several teams to ask about the availability of former lottery pick Nerlens Noel.

“Per league sources, the Heat, Nuggets, Mavericks, Kings, 76ers, and Celtics have recently called the Pistons and inquired about Noel,” Edward said.

Noel, for his part, seems keen on a reunion in Philadelphia, recalling fondly his time with Sixers in early January.

“I’ve got a lot of memories here, a lot of relationships — Joel especially, having him come in and helping him learn a couple of things when he was a rookie,” Noel said per Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Being a year or two ahead of him, I took a lot of pride in that, helping him build the foundation that he has today.”

Sixers Need Backup Big Help

The Sixers’ interest in Noel is hardly surprising. Though the team has Montrezl Harrell, Paul Reed, and, when they want to go uber-small, PJ Tucker to fill in at backup big, none are real needle movers at the position.

It starts with the fact that Embiid is one of the best players in basketball, let alone his position.

Embiid is a plus-13.0 on the court for Philadelphia this season, one of the highest individual marks in the league. When Embiid is out of the lineup for Philadephia, things take a nosedive, with Philadelphia being outscored by nearly four points per 100 possessions.

As Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report noted, this isn’t a new problem for Philadelphia.

“Stop me if you’ve heard this a time or two (million) before, but the Sixers could stand to beef up their center spot behind Joel Embiid,” Buckley wrote. 

“Montrezl Harrell has held up mostly OK during his first season in Philly, but history says his utility will expire once the regular season does. He is neither a reliable rim protector nor a nimble stopper who can comfortably switch on to perimeter players, meaning the focused game plans that surface in the postseason can scheme him off the floor.”

Philadelphia will get a chance to truly see how the team stacks up against a Finals favorite on Wednesday night against the Celtics. If the Sixers fall flat, it could be further motivation for the front office to get a deal done.

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