According to a source close to the Philadelphia 76ers, via Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling, Noel continues to make progress in his return from a torn ACL, but the team isn't ready to make a decision about when he'll return to the hardwood:
A source close to the Sixers says Nerlens Noel is doing great, but is unsure he'll play this season. No final decision has yet been made.— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) February 20, 2014
It has been over a year since Noel, the former Kentucky star, went down in a game against the Florida Gators, and as the Delaware County Daily Times' Christopher A. Vito recently revealed, the defensive stalwart has returned to practice:
#Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel is in full practice gear today.— Christopher A. Vito (@ChrisVito) February 19, 2014
He hasn't yet begun taking contact, but he is shooting, dribbling and showing signs of getting healthy. That's the good news.
Still, it would be very surprising if Noel returned this season.
Although it was already painfully clear that the Sixers were in rebuilding mode, they really hammered home that point on Thursday by trading Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for draft picks and what will eventually amount to more cap space.
ESPN's Brian Windhorst noted their haul:
76ers today picked up: 2014 Cavs & Grizz 2nd rounders, 2015 Pacers & Pelicans 2nd rounds, 2016 Nuggets 2nd rounder— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) February 20, 2014
Although Hawes and Allen's departures open up room in the frontcourt, there is no reason for the Sixers to rush back their 19-year-old prodigy. Getting some in-game experience might be nice, but Noel's health in the coming years is far more important.
Moreover, in early February, head coach Brett Brown, via Vito, exercised caution when discussing a potential return for the youngster:
The message is two-fold: Yep, you’d be as excited as I am to project out what could be in Nerlens Noel. But don’t get tricked. There’s a long ways to go. When it happens is anybody’s guess right now. Those are the two messages.
Noel is a special player with a unique skill set, and with so many extra minutes to go around in Philadelphia's frontcourt, it's undoubtedly intriguing to daydream about his return.
When will Noel return?
But the Sixers have an eye on the future and won't do anything to veer off that path. That means Noel is probably going to be a rookie for another year.