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Nerlens Noel says he'll return soon; Brett Brown is cautious

Nerlens Noel is in the early stages of getting back into his groove after minor knee surgery. However, the 76ers center doesn't anticipate being sidelined for too long.

Nerlens Noel is in the early stages of getting back into his groove after minor knee surgery. However, the 76ers center doesn't anticipate being sidelined for too long.

"As of right now, I'm still feeling it out myself, probably around a couple of weeks," Noel said Monday. "I think I'm in a good place right now to start building back into game shape."

However, Sixers coach Brett Brown doesn't want to rush things. Brown thinks it will be more like a few weeks.

"I think realistically he hasn't done anything," Brown said. "To think that he's going to come back and play NBA basketball, to me, any sooner than that is a little bit far-reaching."

The coach said the first step will be integrating him back into the team. "I don't want to bring him back and, you know, if he's not ready [and] embarrass himself and not be ready to go," Brown said. "You want him 100 percent and excited to come back and play."

Brown said it would be very hard to get Noel minutes. He noted that the Sixers have Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Richaun Holmes, and Noel as centers all battling for playing time. "It's going to be hard," he said. "You can talk about playing two of those guys together to free things up."

The 6-foot-11, 228-pounder has been sidelined since Oct. 6 with inflamed tissue above his left knee. He had surgery to repair the injury on Oct. 24. Noel returned to Philadelphia on Friday night after a three-week rehabilitation stint under the supervision of Kevin Wilk, the associate clinical director of Champion Sports Medicine in Birmingham, Ala.

Noel first worked with Wilk after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February 2013 during his lone season at Kentucky. After surgery by James Andrews, Noel spent 51/2 months with Wilk at Champion Sports before moving to Philadelphia in September 2013. He was acquired by the Sixers in the 2013 draft.

"After the three weeks in Alabama, I definitely think I made a lot of gains, obviously with the Michael Jordan of rehab in Kevin Wilk," Noel said. "I think he was able to put me in a great position coming back just like he did with my ACL. I'm feeling strong. I think the surgery definitely did help me."

Noel, 22, said he was in excruciating pain because of the inflammation. He was told by doctors that he could play with it if it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. However, they told him the pain would be unbearable during an 82-game NBA season.

Monday marked Noel's third straight day of rehabilitation and on-court drills under the supervision of Todd Wright, the Sixers' head of strength and conditioning. He also has been in team meetings and video sessions. However, he has not practiced with the team.

"It's coming along well," Noel said. "It's good to be back with the staff that I've known for a while and getting back into a rhythm. I can't wait to get back to playing basketball and doing what I do."

There were some who criticized him for starting rehabilitation in Alabama instead of remaining with the team. Noel said it was just a matter of being the most comfortable with Wilk under the circumstances.

"I went to probably the best physical therapist in the world in my eyes," he said. "Just speaking of his resumé, he had guys like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, going back to that day. And to this day, he's a modern-day guru of physical therapy, alongside of Dr. Andrews. So I think that's self explanatory."