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Lowered trade value of Noel and Okafor leaves Sixers facing tough decisions

MIAMI - If you're an NBA general manager doing your due diligence, chances are you already had several discussions with your 76ers counterpart, Bryan Colangelo.

MIAMI - If you're an NBA general manager doing your due diligence, chances are you already had several discussions with your 76ers counterpart, Bryan Colangelo.

If you're a general manager looking to fine-tune your roster, chances are you will have several more discussions with Colangelo in the coming weeks.

It's no secret that the Sixers have two centers in Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor whom they are willing to unload. Deciding what the right price is, however, is perhaps the biggest question heading into the Feb. 23 trade deadline.

The Sixers want equal value in exchange. Because both were high draft picks, they could be expected to bring a lot in return.

But the opposite is true. Both players have less than desirable trade value at this time.

Noel's has increased over the last month. But teams are still cautious because he's in the final season of his rookie deal.

As pointed out before, a team that acquires Noel would most likely make him a restricted free agent by extending a qualifying offer at season's end. However, to keep him, that team would have to match any offer another team extends in free agency. If the first team doesn't match the offer, it basically would have traded for an end-of-the-season rental.

So that drives down the value for the sixth overall pick of the 2013 draft.

In regard to Okafor, there are the right-knee problems, which kept him out of Saturday night's game against the Heat; the defensive woes; and the need for the right system for his old-school style of play. reported Thursday that the Chicago Bulls approached the Sixers about trading for the third overall pick of the 2015 draft. They're just one of the teams approaching Colangelo about the player who was projected to go first in his class. But you can rest assured that the Bulls weren't offering Jimmy Butler or anyone close to the all-star's talent level.

The Sixers would probably have to part with Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons for Butler, and we know that's not happening.

It's hard to say what the Sixers can get for Okafor. Perhaps he can deliver a solid young player and/or a mid- to late-first-round pick.

The Sixers have to hold out hope that a team gets desperate at the deadline and gives into their demands in order to make a playoff push.

As for Noel, we all know that he's an elite defender. Despite standing 6-foot-11, he's athletic enough to remain on the floor in small-ball situations. The fact that he's healthy and flourishing gives teams reason to engage in dialogue with Colangelo.

But it's hard to say what the Sixers can get because of his contract situation.

Think about this. A team could trade for Noel only to have another franchise go hard after him this summer in free agency.

We saw it last summer with the Brooklyn Nets. They threw money at players in attempts to overpay them with the hope that their teams wouldn't match it.

A prime example is Portland Trail Blazers guard Allen Crabbe.

He signed a four-year, $75 million offer sheet to play for the Nets on July 7. The Trail Blazers matched his offer. So he's still in Portland.

It will make sense for the Nets to attempt to do the same things this summer since their first-round pick will go to the Boston Celtics. Overpaying free agents is probably the only way to get elite new talent. That will force teams to either match the Nets' offer or let the player go.

Noel would be a solid fit for Brooklyn. He could be a change of pace from Brook Lopez or the two could also play together in a twin-towers set. This isn't to say that the Nets are going to pursue Noel in free agency. It's just that they have the resources to make it tough for a team to re-sign him.

They're not alone. Other teams will have resources to force general managers to make tough decisions in regard to their free agents.

So the Sixers might have to decide if they should trade Noel for less than they're comfortable with or chance losing him for nothing in free agency.

The Sixers could opt to match other teams' offer sheets in free agency. Doing so would ensure they'll have formidable center depth for seasons to come.

His spike in salary wouldn't hurt in the short term. But it could be detrimental to the Sixers' being able to afford high-priced free agents at another position several seasons down the road. That's why in most instances, teams shy away from giving reserves long-term starter-type salaries.

Okafor will have two seasons left on his rookie deal. That in itself is attractive - knowing that you have seasons to decide on his fate. But he needs the right fit.

The Charlotte Hornets would be a good option.

Okafor could have the same impact in Charlotte that Al Jefferson had before signing a three-year, $30 million deal with the Indiana Pacers last summer. Like Jefferson, Okafor is an exceptional below-the-basket scorer. They provide instant offense. Yet they are also liabilities on defense.

Jefferson's defensive struggles weren't a problem with Charlotte, where others covered for him. The Hornets could desperately use an interior scorer to make a postseason push.

Okafor's right knee is also a concern. He still experiences soreness after having season-ending surgery on March 22, 2016 to repair his meniscus.

The question is: What are the Hornets willing to give up for a below-the-rim scoring threat with knee problems?

The Hornets are happy with Cody Zeller as their unheralded starting center. As a result, Okafor would probably be a backup in Charlotte.

Would a team like the Hornets be willing to give up a starting-caliber player for a reserve? Would the Sixers be willing to get a reserve-caliber player for someone who's capable of being an elite starter in the right situation?

We may get the answers to those questions in the coming weeks.