During Sunday night’s summer league telecast in Las Vegas, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman had a courtside interview with Ben Simmons, one of the building blocks of the Sixers’ future.
Jahlil Okafor was also there.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) July 10, 2017
Toward the end of the two-minute conversation, Goodman asked Simmons about the future in Philly, when everyone is healthy. “What are realistic expectations for this team, when you guys are all healthy,” Goodman asked. “If it’s you on the court, Joel healthy, Markelle…the guy sitting next to you, Jahlil Okafor…”
As Simmons answered the question — he’s excited, btw — the camera pulled back to Okafor, who seemed less than enthused to be part of the conversation. Frankly, he seems less than enthused to be part of anything right now.
And who can blame him? Okafor has been the odd man out since Bryan Colangelo took over the Sixers. It’s not unfair to say that after two years in the league, one in which he led the Sixers in scoring, Okafor has yet to live up to his No. 3 draft status. But with the way his sophomore season was handled, he’s destined to be a bust in Philly, and forever be known as the one big mistake Sam Hinkie made in The Process era.
Next season is crucial for Okafor’s career. It’s one thing to be a bust for the team that drafted you. Blame Joel Embiid’s emergence and Brett Brown’s defense-first, run-and-shoot style that is a terrible fit for Okafor’s defense-optional, pound-the-rock skillset. But it’s another to be the No. 3 pick in the draft and be considered an NBA bust after three years. And so, for Okafor to be anything but a bust, he needs to get the heck out of Philly, where he’s been passed on the depth chart by Richaun Holmes and pushed further down by Amir Johnson’s signing.
Okafor has been working hard to justify his spot on the Sixers’ roster, but it’s just the simple numbers game. The few times Brown played Embiid and Okafor together last year were somewhere between disastrous and just plain terrible, and adding Simmons and his 6-10 frame to the mix with Dario Saric, Johnson, Holmes and the other young forwards the Sixers have stockpiled, Brown would only be giving Okafor minutes next season to showcase him. They tried that last season and nobody wanted him. Why would that change now? Besides, giving minutes to Okafor would take time away from one of the other players who are a bigger part of the team’s future plans.
He has to go. All that’s left is a trade partner. Good luck with that.
Kyle Neubeck of Liberty Ballers wrote last week the Sixers are “taking a sobering view of the situation,” which is insider speak for the team admitting they’d be willing to take the 40-to-50 cents on the dollar they weren’t willing to make at the trade deadline last year. It probably doesn’t help that Sixers scribes are calling Okafor “untradeable” at this point, though ESPN’s Zach Lowe — as connected as any reporter in the country — recently called a deal for Okafor “inevitable.”
So it’ll get done. Now it’s just figuring out where. Here are some guesses.
Rumors had the Celtics linked to Okafor before the draft, but the deal for the No. 1 pick came and went without any active players going to either team. When the Celtics let Kelly Olynyk go to free agency — he signed a four-year deal worth a reported $50M with Miami — Okafor looked like a great fit for the Celtics again, the one team that could withstand giving up a future first-round pick for Philly’s potential No. 3 bust.
Alas, what would ostensibly be a swap for Amir Johnson probably won’t happen now, as the Cs found their back-up bigs elsewhere.
In addition to the one-year deal for Baynes, the Celtics dumped Avery Bradley for Philly native Marcus Morris to clear room to sign Gordon Hayward. Okafor is still on his rookie deal and will earn just under $5 million this season, with a club option for $6.3 next year. Al Horford is 31 years old, and Danny Ainge seems a bit on tilt this off-season, so it’s still entirely possible once the frenzy of free agency calms down, Okafor could still be a good fit for Boston. Right now, though, it seems less likely.
The Nets don’t have much to offer other than a future pick (in three years or so), but Brooklyn is trying to overhaul its roster, bringing in D’Angelo Russell and taking on the salary of DeMarre Carroll from Toronto and the Rapts’ first round pick without giving up anything other than back-up center Justin Hamilton.
Back-up center, you say?
The Nets took on the contract of Timofey Mozgov in the Russell deal, but Okafor could be a potential long-term fit with the Nets, who don’t have the same kind of big man logjam the Sixers have. The Nets’ Fansided blog seems all-in on an Okafor deal, suggesting just last week that his “untapped potential” would be a good match for the Nets roster. That said, the suggested trade chips are Trevor Booker or Jeremy Lin, so clearly this wasn’t looking at giving the Sixers anything they actually need in the deal.
And yet, that might be exactly what the team has to do to get rid of Okafor.
This is nuts, but a Cleveland writer at the Scout.com affiliate floated the idea, so let’s run with it. The Cavs trade Iman Shumpert for Okafor and Nik Stauskas.
I said it was nuts. The team that thinks it’s one player away from taking down the Warriors would not, in any way, think that player is Okafor, and yet, they are super top-heavy with salaries and need to get younger. Okafor and Stauskas would accomplish both things, as the duo make less combined than Shumpert earns, and both players are much younger. It’s just, well, they’re not any better.
The Cavs would be giving up their best non-LeBron wing defender for two guys who don’t play much defense at all. And with Kyle Korver inking for three more years in Cleveland, Stauskas seems redundant, unless they can dump JR Smith. And even that seems silly considering the return.
True, the Cavs fell short on a monster deal this off-season to give LeBron another star. But wow…this idea is just wild. Let’s hope it happens soon.
This isn’t a rumor yet at all, but — BUT — one of the commenters in this IG post brought it up, and, to be honest, it actually makes some sense.
owl______hold on，to be honest i want you to be a player of Spurs
The Spurs only have 11 players under contract and don’t actually have anyone on their roster listed as a center. That’s good, because Okafor isn’t really a center, he’s more a power forward with limited range and questionable defensive instincts. What better man to fix those issues than Brett Brown’s old mentor Gregg Popovich?
There was an old rumor last season that Danny Green might be on the move and Jahlil Okafor’s name came up, so it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that the Spurs could be interested in seeing if Jah is a better fit there than in Philly. He is an excellent passer for a big man, a hallmark of Popovich’s offenses. The Spurs are reportedly planning to bring back Pao Gasol, he’s 37, and LaMarcus Aldridge, now 31, hasn’t been the championship piece they’d hoped when he came to town. Okafor might make sense as a cheap backup big who can develop and grow into the position.
Sure, they just dealt for Brook Lopez, but Magic is big on guys being winners, and has touted Okafor as a winner everywhere he’s been.
Okafor might actually be a pretty great fit with Lonzo Ball and the new-look Lakers. Certainly, he’d be a better fit there than here.
There are other teams that could be interested as well. Chicago is revamping its entire roster. The Knicks are doing wacky things. Maybe Detroit? Point is, there are still some teams that could benefit from Okafor’s services. It’s just clear it won’t be the Sixers, and the sooner they can get him gone, the sooner everyone can forget this part of the process.