By Brandon Apter, Sports Talk Philly editor
The process has had many moments that have ended up in fans scratching their heads, wondering what the hell the organization is/was doing. Whether it was trading Michael Carter-Williams, Jrue Holiday, or trading up for Markelle Fultz, there's not a shortage of trades made that aren't criticized by the Philadelphia faithful. One of the more recent ones came prior to the trade deadline last season, when the Sixers sent disgruntled center Nerlens Noel to Dallas for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and two second-round picks (it was a heavily protected first-rounder that had pretty much no chance of conveying so it turned into two seconds). While many believed Jahlil Okafor was going to be the big man that got dealt, it was Noel's departure that sparked the break-up of Philadelphia's big-man logjam. We of course know Jah was sent to Brooklyn earlier this season.
Anyway, at the time of the Noel trade, many fans – probably a majority of them – lashed out at Bryan Colangelo for the pathetic return for Nerlens, a player that had joined the Sixers at the beginning of the coveted process. Noel always had tremendous upside, but injuries and a limited offensive game stunted his development and ultimately made him expendable. Towards the beginning of his final season with the Sixers, Noel didn't hold back his disdain for the team's center situation and was clearly unhappy after his first game back after playing limited minutes. Nerlens went to the Mavericks and played pretty well, averaging 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds over 22 games, earning 12 starts in that span. It was expected that Noel would be a regular starter for the Mavs in 2017-18, but that ended up not being the case.
Noel has played a total of 18 games (six starts) this season, primarily due to injury, but his attitude and work ethic were in question as well prior to him being sidelined. Noel, 23, was reportedly offered a four-year, $72 million contract prior to the season, but it was rescinded after he requested a max deal and instead took a one-year qualifying offer worth $4 million instead. That put him in place to play himself into a max contract situation next offseason. For a guy who said he was "too good" to be playing just eight minutes a night in Philadelphia, he was not even doing enough to get on the court for anything but garbage time on a team without a logjam of centers.
“Minutes have to be earned,” head coach Rick Carlisle said about Noel's playing time in December. “If it’s between him and Salah, Salah has earned the minutes. There’s no doghouse here. It’s pretty simple. You compete, and if you earn minutes, you get minutes. And you’ve got to compete to keep them, because it’s a competitive situation.”
Noel averaged 12.5 minutes in his 18 games this season to go along with 4.0 points and 4.1 rebounds. Seems the former Kentucky product gambled too much on his skillset and instead could find himself settling for much less money with another team next season.
So, as far as the trade goes, Andrew Bogut never played for Philadelphia and one of the two second-round picks from the deal (Juwan Evans) was sent to the Clippers on draft night 2017. As it stands, Justin Anderson and a 2020 pick are all the Sixers have remaining from that trade and it still seems like it might be more valuable than Noel, who clearly has issues on and off the court.
Anderson just recently returned from injury, but has really stepped up and played some strong minutes off the bench for the Sixers, combining to score 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting over the last two games. With injuries to Jerryd Bayless and JJ Redick, Anderson has played more and Brett Brown has always enjoyed the energy and defensive activity of the former first-round pick. If he continues to provide solid performances off the bench, look for Anderson to get more of look in Brown's rotation.
Here's a look at the stat comparison of Anderson and Noel since the trade.
Sure, at face value the numbers favor Noel, but Nerlens has always been viewed in a much higher regard than Anderson, even when the two came out of college. As Noel moves closer to returning from a thumb injury, there's a strong chance Dallas gauges the market for him leading up to the trade deadline in February. On the Sixers end, Anderson has developed into a good situational depth player with specialty on defense. He's due to make $1.6 million this season and the Sixers picked up his $2.5 million team option for 2019-20.
The Sixers and Mavericks meet once more this season, on April 8, after beating Dallas 112-110 in Philadelphia their sixth game of the season. Noel scored four points against his former team while Anderson tallied three and five boards.