Slide a blessing in disguise for Noel
Nerlens Noel was confident he was coming off the board first. His people were convinced Cleveland was taking him with the No. 1 overall pick.
Instead, five general managers went in different directions. And despite costing Noel about $4.4 million dollars and a measure of pride, it may have been a blessing in disguise for the 6-foot-11 big man.
Noel thought he wanted to go first overall, but he didn't want that label. Nobody in this draft is prepared to handle those expectations.
Chris Grant and the Cavs passed in favor of forward Anthony Bennett. Orlando followed by taking Victor Oladipo, a super-athletic wing. Then came the Washington Wizards, who opted to go with the hometown pick of Otto Porter Jr. in a position that was a "need" for the franchise.
There was no way Charlotte wouldn't take the shot-blocker from Kentucky.
Sure, there were red flags. Plenty. There was the torn ACL and meniscus in February that will almost certainly force Noel to have to sit and watch the NBA season opener from the bench.
There were concerns with the "people" he chose to surround himself, questions about how his narrow shoulders and lithe frame would hold up while battling with grown men in the NBA. Let's not forget to toss in the fact that he doesn't have much of an offensive game.
But Noel was the front-runner to be selected No. 1 overall leading up to Thursday night. There was no chance he'd slip lower than fourth, not when just about everyone knew Charlotte was going with size. However, the look on Noel's face was that of sheer bewilderment when NBA commissioner David Stern called out the name of another near-7-footer in Cody Zeller.
Then, to make matters worse, new Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough -- who basically hails from down the street from Noel -- followed it up by passing in favor of another big man, 7-footer Alex Len.
Noel was still on the board at No. 6. The only solace he could take from his slide was that he could glance a couple of tables over in the Barclays Center and see former Kansas star Ben McLemore with the same baffled look on his face.
No one expected either to still be in the room at this point.
Noel was finally taken sixth overall by New Orleans. He wasn't ecstatic, but at least he'd be playing with another former Kentucky big man, Anthony Davis, and potentially form one of the most lethal shot-blocking duos in the history of the game.
However, just moments later, Noel was informed he would remain in the Northeast -- part of a trade to Philadelphia that also delivered a highly coveted 2014 first-round draft pick in return for Jrue Holiday and a second-rounder (which wound up being Pierre Jackson).
No one knows for certain why Noel fell. One general manager who passed told ESPN that it was likely due to the ACL injury and those he decided to surround himself with throughout the draft process.
Another executive responded with the following text message: "The knee looks bad."
The fall certainly cost Noel a few bucks in his first contract, but the second deal is the one that truly matters. Now Noel has a chance to be far more marketable in a city like Philadelphia than in Cleveland. He'll also come in with a chip on his shoulder again, similar to when he arrived at Kentucky a year ago with no shortage of skeptics.
Noel will walk into Philadelphia as just another draftee, while Bennett will have the weight of No. 1 pick when he arrives in Cleveland. There's a certain expectation that comes with being picked first overall, and some just aren't equipped to handle it.
There was no surefire No. 1 guy in 2013, and Noel may have avoided the pressure and the curse of coming off the board first.
Now Noel will get a chance to be thrown into the fire when he gets healthy. The Sixers traded for Andrew Bynum and didn't get a single game out of him in the 2012-13 season. They are begging for someone to beat out Spencer Hawes.
Noel's transition will be easier as he will be joined by his former AAU teammate Michael Carter-Williams, the long and talented point guard from Syracuse who was taken with the 11th overall pick. The Sixers also have young talents Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner, as well as the protected pick in next year's loaded draft and plenty of salary cap room to go after big-time free agents a year from now.
Noel can take his time, develop on the offensive end and make sure he's 100 percent healthy. There's no rush. He won't have to be the savior or anything close.
He may not see it that way right now, but that's a win for Noel.
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