PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Nerlens Noel was finally introduced to the media on Tuesday afternoon.
He may not be introduced to the Philadelphia fans on the court until 2014.
Noel was acquired by the 76ers in a draft night trade last month with the New Orleans Pelicans. Philadelphia acquired the rights to Noel and a first-round pick, which is top-five protected, for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and a second-round choice.
Noel was projected by many as the No. 1 overall selection, but he may have dropped some slots after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February. He played only 24 games for the University of Kentucky but was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.4 blocked shots and 2.1 steals in 32 minutes per game.
Noel is uncertain of his return and is scheduled to visit a doctor Wednesday at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I’m doing six hours of rehab a day,” Noel said, “(and) I’m making a lot of progress.”
After the Andrew Bynum experiment failed miserably — he never played one second in a Philadelphia uniform last season because of bilateral bruises on both knees after a grand welcoming to the city following a trade — the Sixers weren’t fazed from trading for another promising young player with a major knee injury.
General manager Sam Hinkie said repeatedly that he wouldn’t rush Noel’s recovery.
“Rim protectors are at a real premium in this league,” Hinkie said. “We feel like we have one here. We have future plans, too, and we’ll do our due diligence in every way with respect to Nerlens. When we get the nod that he’s cleared, then we’ll do it. We’re in no hurry.”
The 19-year-old Noel is the key piece of a rebuilding process with the Sixers, who stumbled to a 34-48 record in 2012-13, just one season removed from losing to the Boston Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Bynum recently signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers while guard Nick Young went to the Los Angeles Lakers and swingman Dorell Wright left for the Portland Trail Blazers. Philadelphia consultant Rod Thorn left for the NBA league office, general manager Tony DiLeo was fired and coach Doug Collins resigned.
In fact, the Sixers are the lone team without a coach.
“We’ve talked to a number of people,” Hinkie said. “When we feel like we have the right coach, we’ll do it.”
The unnamed coach will likely build around Noel when he returns from his knee injury. And that’s a lot of pressure for a teenager.
“I think I perform better with pressure,” Noel said. “If you want to be a great player, you have to be able to perform under pressure.”
Noel is used to winning, but circumstances are expected to change in his rookie season with the youthful Sixers, who aren’t projected to be a contender.
“I’m very focused on the task at hand and getting back on the court,” Noel said. “Nothing is going to stop me from doing that. I’m a very positive person and I will support my teammates in every way. I like the players we have on our roster and I’m excited to be a part of the great history of this franchise.”