Once thought of as a potential part of Philadelphia’s future foundation, it is possible that we have already seen Nerlens Noel’s last game as a Sixer. This is simply conjecture at this point, but considering the current circumstances, it is not too far-fetched to think that Noel may never play another game for Philadelphia.

After being notably absent from around the organization for the entirety of the ’16 summer – while other building blocks like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor, and Dario Saric bonded both on and off the court – Noel publicly vocalized his displeasure with the Sixers roster as currently constructed, then opted to have an elective knee surgery and has been M.I.A. again ever since.

After watching the Sixers select fellow frontcourt players Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor, and Ben Simmons since his own selection in the 2013 NBA Draft, Noel is clearly disillusioned with the Sixers’ restructuring – and his place in it.

With Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor on major minute restrictions to start the season, Noel could have used the ample playing time that would have been available to prove his indispensability to the Sixers. Instead, by opting for an elective knee surgery, the fourth-year forward/center from Kentucky sent a pretty clear message to the organization.

“It’s just a tough situation,” Noel said back in September. “It’s just a whole different position that I didn’t picture being in. I can’t really say too much because I have no say in the matter, so obviously that’s for who can handle the situation in the right manner.”

In other words, Noel couldn’t demand a trade due to a lack of leverage, but he could opt for an elective surgery and use his agent(s) – he has two – to put pressure on the team to make a move.

The Sixers are by no means beholden to Noel’s timeline, but if a separation is as inevitable as it appears to be – the two sides did not agree on a rookie-scale extension before October’s deadline – then Noel’s return to the Sixers lineup seems uncertain. Noel’s market value isn’t going to increase at this point playing a limited role in the rapidly expanding shadow of Joel Embiid, and by moving him before he reenters the locker room, the team could avoid a potentially cancerous situation. Not to mention that – if he is able to stay healthy – the presence of Embiid on the Sixers roster makes Noel’s skillset superfluous.  

Noel’s uncertain future remains the most pressing issue facing the Sixers front office, and it’s possible that the situation is resolved with a trade before Noel returns to Philadelphia’s active roster.