There was a brief moment there when it sounded like injured rookie Nerlens Noel might return before the end of the Philadelphia 76ers' woeful season.
4-4-14— Nerlens Noel (@NerlensNoel3) March 9, 2014
No such luck. The 19-year-old said he'd hoped to make it back this April, but according to a tweet from CSNPhilly's Dei Lynam, it just wasn't to be:
#SixersTalk Nerlens on tweeting 4-4-14 "It was a goal of mine to come back by then and be cleared by the Sixers but it didn't happen.— Dei Lynam (@dlynamCSN) April 8, 2014
That's consistent with what The Inquirer's Marc Narducci reported in March, citing "a source with knowledge of the situation [who] doesn't expect Noel to play this season as he recovers from last year's knee surgery."
Though this doesn't come as especially good news for the Sixers, Noel has actually made quite the impression with his return to practice. And it's certainly not as if a brief stint at season's end would have made any difference to this team's misfortunes.
Noel's impact hasn't been lost on head coach Brett Brown, though.
According to Lynam, Brown had nothing but praise for the player expected to help save this franchise from the bottom of the standings in 2014-15:
He is a fierce competitor and that is the number one quality for me that makes someone special. Then you get into the athleticism. He has a bounce. People that can block a shot, hit the floor and go back up are special and he can do it with both his right hand and left hand.
Between the intangibles and freakish physical ability, the Sixers know they have a keeper—one who appears to be getting better with time.
#SixersTalk Nerlens Noel " I have increased my vertical leap three inches!"— Dei Lynam (@dlynamCSN) April 8, 2014
That doesn't seem possible, but we'll have to give Noel the benefit of the doubt. It probably won't be the biggest surprise when he finally steps on the court.
According to ESPN.com, Noel says waiting on the sidelines hasn't been easy: "Obviously I do want to play. I'm a 19-year-old who's been sitting down on the sideline really wanting to get out there and show my abilities and to be able to play ball. It's been tough, but it's something we had to do."
The frustration of having to sit out his rookie season could pay serious dividends once Noel actually gets to face some competition. He's had a sustained opportunity to learn the pro game without any pressure to perform, watching and learning during a season in which his teammates might wish they could have done the same.
Blake Griffin once faced similar obstacles, ultimately bouncing back from a lost rookie season and averaging a monstrous 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds in his first season on the floor. It would be asking a lot to expect similar production from Noel next season, but then again, it's been a long time since we've seen him in action.
Should Noel's scoring game improve, there will be nothing stopping him from averaging a double-double—especially on a talent-starved roster that will look to make the most of one of its best young players.
The Sixers took Noel with the sixth overall pick in last summer's draft. He was lost to a torn ACL he suffered in February of 2013.