THE THEME of Bryan Colangelo's first trade deadline as president of the 76ers wasn't to separate himself from "The Process" even though he traded away the first piece of Sam Hinkie's rebuild Thursday when he sent Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks for center Andrew Bogut and swingman Justin Anderson. They also will receive a top-18 protected pick this season, which will turn into two second-round picks if it doesn't convey.
The Noel move came a day after Colangelo shuttled starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova to Atlanta for Tiago Splitter and a second-rounder.
The president's motive, it appears, was to get something, anything for a couple of players who could have walked after this season and not gotten the Sixers anything in return.
Like Bogut, Splitter probably will not see time with the team, as both will probably be waived. Noel (restricted) and Ilyasova (unrestricted) are to be free agents following the season. Most likely, Noel would have attracted many suitors, driving his price to a level higher than Colangelo would be willing to pay. And while Ilyasova's game proved to be the perfect model alongside Joel Embiid, the play of Dario Saric of late — and perhaps Ilyasova being too high of an expense — prompted Colangelo to deal. As has been his M.O. since being an executive in this league, Colangelo is not one who likes to see players leave without getting something in return.
So where does this leave the team? Whom does this affect? What about "The Process?"
For the most part, reaction isn't favorable, as Ilyasova and Noel are gone and all the team received in return were second-round picks. Add to that the news Thursday that Embiid will miss the next four games to rest his bone-bruised left knee, and it's understandable why blood is boiling among the faithful.
There are other areas in which these moves could have negative ramifications to the team. The money aspect of it all can't be overlooked, as paying Noel top dollar before they'd have to do the same thing to Embiid in a couple of years and Ben Simmons down the line, along with perhaps two high draft picks this June, is always the asterisked part of Colangelo's blueprint.
In Noel, the team lost one of the most popular players in the locker room and the best friend of centerpiece Embiid. And on a team that has way too many youngsters, those relationships mean more than you can imagine. But you can't cater to friendships. More important, however, Noel's play as Embiid's backup was one of the key reasons the Sixers did so well during that stretch in late December and all of January, when they won 11 of 16 games.
While Embiid has been limited to a 28-minute restriction, the 18 to 20 minutes Noel played in his place was the smoothest rotational move of coach Brett Brown's time in Philly. Noel provided an athleticism that lent to the fast-paced style Brown craves and spearheaded a defensive presence that is so valuable on a second unit. He may be the best backup for this team of anyone in the league. And now he's gone, and the void will be very hard to fill.
Noel undoubtedly wants to be a starter in the league, and he'll most likely get starter's money this summer. Business-wise, this probably was a deal that had to be done. On the court, however, the team just lost out on the perfect fit behind Embiid.
That role, for the time being, falls to Jahlil Okafor, as the team was unable to work any kind of deal to move the second-year center. Two weeks after being held out of a game because of an imminent trade, Okafor most likely will get the bulk of the center minutes for the next four games, at least, as Embiid sits. And what happens when Embiid returns? Can Okafor handle a backup role? Does he fit in with a second unit, something he's never done? Is he here only until June's draft night, when Colangelo might be able to get a little more in return than what he's been offered lately?
The answer to those questions is simple: Probably not. So there are still moves to be made, and many want far more than the ones made by Colangelo the past couple of days.
Though Noel and Ilyasova are gone, they have perfectly shown to be the model this team needs to emulate moving forward. While Saric will move into the starting spot vacated by Ilyasova, he'll need to improve his perimeter shooting to space the floor as well as Ilyasova did for Embiid. And the Sixers will now have to find a capable backup to him, the role Saric has filled so well.
Noel and Ilyasova won't be replaced with what was gotten in return. But what now needs to be gotten is clearly evident — two players just like those who were traded.
Now, the real work begins for Hinkie's replacement.