Before Nerlens Noel was a talented veteran center picking up opportunities with several franchises, he was one of the faces of the Philadelphia 76ers' infamous tanking era. As the Sixers were getting ready to "trust the process" by tanking for high-end picks, Noel was one of the very few players that fans couldn't wait to see in action.
Coming out of the University of Kentucky, Noel was a former five-star recruit who was projected to be a high-end lottery pick in the NBA. Before dealing with a knee injury, Noel had the potential of getting selected first-overall in the 2013 NBA Draft.
But the health concerns surrounding the talented center caused him to drop to sixth-overall. After getting selected by the New Orleans Pelicans, Noel was later flipped to the Sixers for Jrue Holiday and the draft rights to Pierre Jackson.
Like many Sixers rookies at the time, Noel missed his entire debut season due to his injury recovery. Eventually, Noel debuted for the Sixers during the 2014-2015 season. He played in Philly for two full seasons and was traded midway through his third year to the Dallas Mavericks.
After spending time with the Mavs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the New York Knicks, Noel is set to hit free agency once again. As he gears up to embark on his second search for a team via the open market, Noel looked back on his time during "The Process," which he seems to appreciate as a learning experience.
"Being in the process coming out of college definitely was a process in itself. I had to become more patient at a young age, starting from sitting out. I wanted to play towards the end of the year, and respectfully, it was determined that I shouldn’t play. I was itching at the bit to get out there and showcase myself even if the team was losing. Then, year by year, they drafted Joel (Embiid), but he was hurt, so I was still able to showcase and in the year after that with Jahlil (Okafor).
It started to get packed in (the frontcourt), and as a young player at 19, 20, and 21 years old, you want to continue to take steps forward to show your game and take the right steps forward to get better each year. I took it for what it was and continued to work on my game and body throughout the years and work on the things that were going to keep me in the league and keep me getting better. I took it all as a learning experience as a young player in this league with not as much veteran leadership to count on yourself, your coaches, and peers around the league." via Michael Scotto of HoopsHype
Early on in his career, Noel bought in on the Sixers' process even though it was clear the team was playing for picks, and the roster was constantly changing at a high rate. Unfortunately, like many players during that time, Noel didn't get to see the losing translate into consistent winning.
Like most Sixers players during that time, Noel became a trade chip. Two years before the Sixers made the playoffs, Noel was flipped to Dallas for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and a 2017 first-round pick with protections.
While Noel's loyalty to the Sixers wasn't reciprocated by the old front office, the veteran center doesn't seem to hold any grudges towards the organization that first took a chance on him. As the 27-year-old big man searches for his next landing spot, he appreciates the way his career started, even though it was certainly a roller coaster.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.