Philadelphia 76ers: Nerlens Noel Will Become Restricted Free Agent Next Offseason

Apr 12, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel (4) chases the ball after stealing it from Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) in the first half at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel (4) chases the ball after stealing it from Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) in the first half at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers and Nerlens Noel did not agree to a contract extension prior to the Monday night deadline.

The Nerlens Noel situation has turned from a fiasco into an immediate reality. There was no expectations that the Philadelphia 76ers and Noel would come to an agreement, but many were clinging on to false hope that the team would pull off some sort of miraculous sign-and-trade, which has become a rarity in today’s NBA. As a result, Noel will enter the summer of 2017 as a restricted free agent, barring an accepted qualifying offer.

Financially, signing Noel would have taken up a chunk of the maximum cap space the team has, but not enough to restrict them from making big offseason moves. There’s somewhat of a push and pull in signing an unstable player to contract extensions. Unstable, in Noel’s case, refers to his role in the organization and his potential as an impact player.

For the Philadelphia 76ers, signing Noel to a large contract extension makes little to no sense. The emergence of charismatic center Joel Embiid has placed him as the clear starting center for the future, putting Noel and Jahlil Okafor on the bench. Okafor’s contract situation is more attractive to a team deciding between three center prospects.

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Nerlens Noel will earn big money. Maybe it won’t be the $100 million-contract received by fellow big men Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert before the extension deadline, but it will at the least be close to it. Noel’s defensive versatility serves as an asset for borderline playoff teams, but for the rebuilding Sixers it’s more reasonable to play a rookie contract, like Okafor or Richaun Holmes, off the bench rather than paying close to six figures for someone you view as a career backup for your team.

Depth is important, and Noel would emerge as one of the best bench centers in the league, but you have to ask about his willingness to do so. His off-court actions and interviews have shaped this narrative that Noel feels he can’t play with his big men colleagues, and have pushed the Philadelphia 76ers to decide on Noel.

The contract extension would have also brought mixed results in trade value. The team acquiring Noel would have known the exact numbers being put on the books, as well as a sense of security and control over his contract. On the flip side, it takes away the possibility of a team shipping assets for a half season rental of Noel. It’s unlikely it’ll happen, but there’s always a possibility that a big man falls to injury in the midst of a playoff run, putting Noel as the hot commodity for short-term, inexpensive relief.

For a team like the Cavaliers and the Raptors, who sit atop of the Eastern Conference with large payrolls, giving up a first-round pick would mean going all in on this current season while sacrificing an inexpensive asset. If the Cavs do see Tristan Thompson go down before the trade deadline, betting some large chips on Noel in relief to sustain a championship level unit may not be an insane idea.

Noel not being extended is really insignificant in terms of the effect in relationship between him and the organization. What was significant about the deadline were the contracts extended to other big men.

Gobert’s $102 million and Adam’s $100 million were the headline news. And deservingly so. Both centers have proven themselves to be anchors at starting center for their respective teams. They have also proven to be more efficient throughout their rookie contract than Noel. Noel’s points per game is higher due to a higher usage rate (17.8% compared to 14.1% for Gobert and 13.1% for Adams). Gobert and Adams have significantly higher eFG% while also having significantly higher offensive ratings than Noel.

Still, Noel isn’t too far behind. He’s definitely far ahead of Cody Zeller ($56 million) and Gorgui Dieng ($64 million). The fact is, Noel’s expected future and the Philadelphia 76ers plans for him don’t align, both financially and basketball-wise.

If the Philadelphia 76ers still hold his rights going into restricted free agency, it will be interesting to see how they play with the large offer sheets Noel will surely receive.

Next: Trade Leverage Decreasing

Nerlens Noel was the victim of the best player available scheme. Joel Embiid outshines him in talent, and Okafor’s contract situation softens any failed experiment. Noel was once the hope of the Philadelphia 76ers, but now he finds himself and an almost hopeless situation.