Opinions were in full force yesterday afternoon when reports said the Sixers and Hawks were discussing a trade involving Nerlens Noel and Jeff Teague. At first glance, this seems like a poor return on investment for the Sixers with Noel just turning 22 about a month ago. In comparison, Teague is already 27 and has just one more year left on his deal, which is $8 million.
There are two possible explanations for why the Sixers might be interested in a trade like this. The first is that Bryan Colangelo is just an idiot who wants to rush the team into the middle of the pack instead of trying to strive for greatness. Since Sam Hinkie stepped down as the team’s general manager, Colangelo has made some questionable decisions, which isn’t too surprising considering his history as a front office guy for the Toronto Raptors. It seems like a Noel/Teague trade would involve some other pieces, but if it means giving up assets in addition to Noel for just Teague, this would seem like an obvious “no” for the Sixers. However, this doesn’t seem like Colangelo agrees.
Teague is a good point guard. He is not a great player, and he’s not a bad player either. “Good” is the perfect way to describe the player who has averaged around 16 PPG and 6.5 APG over the past three seasons as the Hawks’ starting point guard. With seven seasons already under his belt, it doesn’t seem like he’s due for a complete breakthrough — it’s possible we’ve already seen the best Teague has to offer. And if that indeed is the best, then he’ll continue to be that “good” point guard until he begins to decline in four to five years.
It’s unclear which team offered this trade, but it seems like the Sixers initiated it to some degree since they appear to be trying to trade either Noel or Jahlil Okafor. I’d personally prefer to move Okafor, as Noel’s defensive abilities will likely pair well with Joel Embiid’s offensive talent. And Noel has been a very solid defensive player over these past two seasons, an attribute often overlooked due to the team’s pitiful performance these past few years.
6'10"+ players to average 1.7+ steals in multiple seasons: Hakeem Olajuwon (10x), Tom Gugliotta (3x), Nerlens Noel (2x), David Robinson (2x)
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) June 3, 2016
That’s a pretty good group to be with. Is Noel as good as all those players? Obviously not, but it shows his defensive ability is there.
However, there’s also the sentiment that the Sixers may not be in the position to acquire a lot of great players via trades or free agency because, well, they kind of suck. The Sixers have a lot of young talent, but almost all of it is at one position: center. With their talent concentrated in one position, teams are able to take advantage of the fact that the Sixers are trying to move one of them and give up less in return. Essentially, the Sixers may have killed their leverage by drafting so many centers.
There’s no way Noel, Okafor and Embiid can all get enough minutes at center if they’re all healthy. It just can’t happen with only 48 minutes available for the position. Noel can continue to play at the 4, but with Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Richaun Holmes, Dario Saric, Carl Landry and possibly Ben Simmons all on the roster as well, their front court is going to be so crowded they won’t be able to give everyone meaningful minutes in a way where they can all continue develop.
Teams can easily take advantage of this when making trades. If they know the Sixers are determined to trade at least one of their talented centers, they don’t have to give up equal value because the Sixers are in need of a guard much more than most teams are in need of a center. And with how bad the Sixers are compared to not just the Hawks, but literally almost every team in the league, the Sixers have much more to gain from a trade and would be more interested in making sure a deal actually goes through.
Also, with how poor the Sixers have performed over the last few years, what great players would even want to come play for the team? If I were a veteran player seeking my second or third contract, I’m not sure why I’d waste my time on the Sixers when I could probably earn nearly as much or the same amount of money from another team that actually has a chance to win now. In Teague’s case he doesn’t really have a choice because it’d be a trade, but in terms of free agents, the Sixers don’t have much leverage either.
So in conclusion, is a player like Teague the best they could hope for? It’d be really sad if that was the case, but the Sixers may have screwed themselves over in terms of their roster construction. Sometimes drafting “best player available” is the right way to do it, but at this point, if the Sixers can’t get full value for Noel or Okafor, they may be questioning that philosophy in the future.