Philadelphia might already be resigned to a lost season, but new Sixers head coach Brett Brown was surprisingly frank regarding the availability (or lack thereof) of one of the team's best young pieces.
Prior to a preseason game against the Cavaliers on Monday, Brown indicated to the attending media -- as was first reported by David Zavac of Fear the Sword -- that No. 6 overall pick Nerlens Noel could miss the entire 2013-14 season with injury. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com has Brown's exact statement:
"I doubt, everybody doubts that he's going to play this year," Brown said before the Sixers played the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday. "We don't want to waste this year. I think from a skill perspective, it's an opportunity for us to break down his shot, really work on his free throws and start a little bit from ground zero."
On Noel's side, his agent has denied that any formal decision has been made regarding his client's status, per Steve Kyler of HOOPSWORLD:
Noel is currently rehabilitating from an ACL tear he suffered in February. Most conventional timetables for recovery would put him back in basketball action by February or March.
Yet with Noel and the Sixers in a position to take the safest route to recovery possible, it's not surprising to hear that he could miss the entire season. What is a bit unusual is that Brown would admit Noel's potential season-long absence so early. Team officials are typically mum when asked about players returning from long-term injuries.
Still, Philadelphia has been fairly obvious about its efforts to field a crummy team this season with or without Noel. The team's best player of last season (Jrue Holiday) was shipped out for Noel and a future first-round pick, with full knowledge that the rookie big man would miss significant time. Despite the departures of Holiday, Andrew Bynum, Dorell Wright, and Nick Young, the Sixers didn't add any other notable players through trade or free agency -- a development which put their total payroll well below the league's salary floor*. Rookie playmaker Michael Carter-Williams will be entrusted to run the offense, the depth chart is riddled with holes, and veteran guard Jason Richardson could, too, miss the bulk of the season with a knee injury.
Philadelphia will be a terrible team this season -- likely the worst in the league. The prospect of Noel missing the entire season is simply an extension of that status quo, and a facilitating factor toward the kind of lowly record that might yield a high draft pick next summer.*As Mark Deeks noted in a piece for SB Nation, there isn't any pressing need for Philadelphia to meet the NBA's minimum salary requirement. The only repercussion is that the Sixers are required to pay the difference between their salary total and the salary floor split amongst their players.