NBA: Toronto Raptors at Philadelphia 76ers
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Brett Brown was right to bench Nerlens Noel (not because the Sixers won)

The big man forced Brown’s hand, and promptly got pulled from the center rotation.

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In his career with the Sixers, Nerlens Noel’s record is 29-115. That number may never increase.

Noel was benched by coach Brett Brown, told he’s no longer in the rotation plans at center. Noel will still be expected to practice and warm up, and he might still play if there’s an injury or deep foul trouble, but mostly, Noel is being asked to sit at the end of the bench and deal with it.

After the Sixers’ 108-107 victory over the Nets, Brown explained his logic some more.

Brown is essentially putting Noel up on the trading block, telling all NBA teams to make their best (read: any) offer and he’s theirs, just to get him the hell out of town.

Nerlens Noel has to get the hell out of town.

Truth be told, he hasn’t been happy since the day he stepped on the court in a Sixers uniform after, himself, missing his rookie season with an injury. He’s long felt the franchise wasted his first three seasons, two on the court, tanking to get the top pick, and now that they are finally starting to reap the benefits of those squandered years — Ben Simmons hasn’t even suited up, but Joel Embiid’s presence shines over this roster like a pot of gold at the end of the world’s longest rainbow — Noel saw that he was going to be the odd man out in the big man rotation.

Noel has played 18 minutes in two games, missing the first quarter of the season after having surgery the team didn’t think he needed, then opting to rehab from that surgery away from the team’s doctors and their brand new, state-of-the-art facility. Just recently Noel came back into the fold with the Sixers, and immediately his post-practice chatter about the center ‘logjam’ became a top story.

Before Sunday’s victory over the Nets, one in which Noel did not play but Embiid scored a career-high 33 points with 10 rebounds in 27 minutes, Brown talked to reporters about Noel being pulled from the rotation, stating he was not benched for his public comments showing displeasure for not getting enough minutes.

Frankly, I didn’t believe Brown when he said this has nothing to do with Noel’s comments, because if Noel wasn’t rocking the boat and was suddenly okay with eight minutes a game, he’d be getting them and Brown wouldn’t have had to make such a drastic move.

And while, yes, Brown’s answer puts more attention on the play of Richaun Holmes, this is really about Jahlil Okafor inexplicably getting minutes over Noel, and without a doubt this opens up the questions about who besides Embiid will play any low-post defense if Noel is traded.

The fact is, Noel was the odd man out from the start, and with the energy Holmes provides the Sixers, Noel isn’t needed as much as he was when the team didn’t care about winning.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Philadelphia 76ers
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Noel is an elite rim protector, but in a small sample size it looks like Embiid is every bit as good with far more offensive skills. Noel has been solid in the pick-and-roll on offense, and he can finish when a penetrating guard draws the defender, but that’s his entire game. He’s a liability from beyond three feet. Truly. Last season Noel shot 66.2 percent from inside five feet. He shot 31 percent from 5-9 feet last season, which included 23-of-62 from five feet (37.1 percent) and 4-of-25 from 6-9 feet. That’s 16 percent.

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NBA.com/Stats

Noel shot 16 percent from 6-9 feet last season.

This season, Noel is 4-of-9 from the floor, the entire year. He was on pace to play 20 minutes in his first game before pulling himself out with an ankle sprain at halftime. After missing the next game, Noel got just eight minutes in a loss to the Lakers before going off on his rant. And he’s right about needing more minutes. Brown knows he’s right, but that doesn’t matter.

Because despite the fact he needs more time to get in rhythm and deserves more time given what the franchise has done to him the last few seasons, his skillset no longer warrants extended minutes on this roster.

Would you like to see Embiid and Noel play together? Of course. It would be amazing to see if that worked.

Is it frustrating to see Okafor getting every opportunity to play — even moving Embiid off position to accommodate his limited NBA skills?

It’s killing me. Almost literally.

Brown has made it clear, though, he doesn’t think the Sixers can win with Noel, and he believes that Noel’s presence in the rotation hurts Dario Saric and Ersan Ilyasova, as well as Embiid, Okafor and Holmes.

Truth be told, Okafor’s presence hurts all of those players too, but at least he’s healthy and available for Brown. Noel hasn’t even given him two healthy games and he was complaining about time.

Logically, this was all calculated. Noel’s comments, while presented in a frustrated manner, were on message with what he’s said all season. He expected to be traded before the draft, or perhaps he thought Okafor would be, but when Bryan Colangelo didn’t get a deal done for either, ill-will continued to fester. Noel deserves better, for what he did for this franchise and based on his ability on the defensive end, but Brown has deserved better too. And all of this is Colangelo’s fault. (Well, Hinkie, too.)

The one great truth in this Sixers season is that Colangelo, to this point, has failed his bigs, and his coach.

None of that will matter if the Sixers are able to trade Noel for a useful shooter or perimeter defender (or Okafor) but until they get a deal done, Colangelo continues to hurt his franchise, the team’s most valuable player in Embiid, potential rookie-of-the-year runner-up in Saric and their other (current) big man in Okafor.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Playing Embiid with another big can work when he’s the center, and when the offense runs through him. On Sunday, Brown ran everything through Embiid and he was a plus-7 with incredible numbers, his best offensive game as a pro. And the Sixers won. Okafor struggled the entire game, though, shooting 0-of-10 for just three points and 11 rebounds.

On Friday, Embiid was just 5-of-14 for 15 points, while Okafor was 4-of-7 for 15 points and a -15 on the game. Last Wednesday, Embiid has his worst game as a pro with nine points on just 3-of-6 shooting, while Okafor shined on 6-of-9 shooting and 17 points.

So far, since deciding to play two bigs together, there have been scant moments where both shine, but more often than not, one struggles while the other steps up.

Embiid was the only player in the Sixers starting lineup to have a positive plus/minus on Sunday. But Saric was plus-17 off the bench. Ilyasova, while -3, dropped 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting in 31 minutes. They should be getting more time with Embiid, while Okafor gets second-unit minutes. Or, more deservingly, Noel. But now we know that won’t happen.

First things first, it seems. Before Brown can develop a winning rotation, he needs to figure out who is in it. And Noel isn’t. Not anymore.

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