The NBA regular season is just around the corner, and one of the biggest mysteries ahead of preseason is what the Philadelphia 76ers will do about their impenetrable logjam in the frontcourt.
On Monday, Joel Embiid told reporters that he is healthy and expects to suit up on October 4 in his team’s first preseason game. It’s terrific news that Embiid is finally healthy, of course, especially after such uncertainty over the past two years.
The problem now is that he, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel all play the same position.
Ahead of media day, Noel spoke openly about the current state of the Sixers’ roster, and he did not sound too thrilled.
“I think it’s just silly . . . this situation that we are in now with three starting centres,” Noel told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “With the departure of [former GM and president] Sam Hinkie, I would have figured that management would be able to get something done this summer.”
Noel also noted that he loved the city of Philadelphia and was committed to the team and teammates, but recognised that something likely needs to change.
“I feel like it definitely needs to be figured out,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, again, you have three starting-calibre centres. And it’s just not going to work to anybody’s advantage having that on the same team. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated.”
He added: “Don’t get me wrong. We all get along great on the court and off the court. But at the end of the day, it’s like having three starting quarterbacks. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Last year, when Embiid was sidelined with lagging foot injuries, Sixers coach Brett Brown frequently played Noel at power forward alongside Okafor at center. This, to put it bluntly, was a disaster. Noel is a center, not a power forward; the Sixers’ Twin Towers frontcourt simply did not work.
Embiid’s return makes things even more complicated, obviously. But the other — and perhaps more pressing — problem is that this offseason saw the Sixers draft Ben Simmons (a power forward) and bring over Dario Saric (a power forward) from Europe. In other words: the Sixers have five former lottery picks, all of whom play one of two positions.
So what’s going to happen?
It’s hard to know for sure, and a lot depends on Embiid’s health and effectiveness as an NBA player. Still, it seems inevitable that Noel, Embiid, and Okafor will not all be teammates for much longer. The only question is which one will be traded.