Sure, he's been cleared for "limited on-court work," according to general manager Sam Hinkie, via Jeff Goodman of ESPN.
But just because your Ferrari is fresh out of the shop doesn't mean you have to immediately take it out for a spin. You got this baby on a five-year rookie lease—it's not going anywhere. And neither are the Philadelphia 76ers, so what's the rush?
If there were a goal the team was chasing or some reward if he played well—but no, there isn't. The Sixers have the fourth-worst record in the NBA. By the time Noel returns, this season will be a complete wash—just the way management drew it up last summer.
Let the 228-pound center build his body and knee strength before throwing him into the NBA's physical interior. And by the way, 228 pounds would make him the lightest starting center in the NBA, assuming that's the role the Sixers drafted him to eventually fill. And considering he doesn't play outside the paint, strength for the interior is critical.
You also don't want Noel thinking about anything other than basketball out there. Even if he is cleared for physical activity, wouldn't you rather give him 20 months to rehab than 12?
Of course you would, especially if that extra time won't hurt the team or player.
"If he can play, selfishly, you would like him to play," coach Brett Brown told Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times. "You’d like to get some games under his belt."
I get the "games under his belt" argument, but at the end of the day, how big of a difference will it make long-term? The Sixers chose to build for the long term by trading the present for the future in last June's draft.
ESPN's Jeff Goodman reported Noel will still need four to six more weeks barring a setback. If he does suit up this season, how many games is he getting in? Twenty on a minutes restriction? What's that going to realistically do?
There's just no point in risking anything during the last month of garbage-time basketball.
Should Nerlens Noel come back this year?
Noel is better off sitting out the year and starting the 2014-15 season as strong and fresh as possible. Because that's when the new era of Sixers basketball begins. It's not now, when the team is focused on the lottery and adding through the draft.
No harm can be done to Noel if he sits out the year. And no reward can be gained by him playing.
Blake Griffin sat out his true rookie year before dominating in his first official NBA season. Between the offseason, summer league, training camp and preseason, Noel will have plenty of time from April until next year's opener to get acquainted with the size and speed of the game. And besides, even if he doesn't, who cares? The rebuilding phase is all about making Philadelphia contenders in 2020, not 2015.
After the team went through the trouble of trading Jrue Holiday and starting from scratch, rushing Noel back would be borderline hypocritical. If there were ever a time to be patient, now is it—which was supposed to be the plan for this organization all along.