Even for those who unequivocally Trust the Process, Sam Hinkie made one huge mistake as the man behind the rebuilding of the Sixers. And after nearly three years, the team has no option but to finally to move on. Jahlil Okafor is almost gone.
Reports Tuesday evening stated the Sixers will not pick up the option on Okafor’s contract. Earlier this week, the Sixers and Okafor’s agent were in talks with teams to try to broker a sign-and-trade deal, where the Sixers would pick up Okafor’s option year and then deal him to a team that requires his services.
It seems that team doesn’t exist — at least not for a price the Sixers were willing to accept for the former No. 3 pick — and while it’s been frustrating to see how Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo has handled the Okafor situation since taking over the team, it’s hard to sell something nobody wants to buy.
Hinkie is rightly credited with changing the game of basketball forever, and not just in Philadelphia. Hinkie saw the landscape of the NBA when he took over as general manager of the Sixers and realized that the only way to build a championship team was to either lure a top-5 player to Philly or to draft one. The NBA is rigged, and super teams dominate the landscape across the league. Hinkie knew this, and it’s the reason he convinced the Sixers owners to tank away three seasons in hopes of finding that generational superstar in the draft.
Because of Hinkie, the Sixers might have two generational superstars. He drafted an injured Joel Embiid third overall in 2014 and the Sixers slogged through several seasons without him in hopes of eventually reaping the benefits of the big man on the court. So far so good.
Hinkie also worked a deal to get Dario Saric in that draft, and magically manipulated multiple deals to free up cap space and give the Sixers what he called “optionality” with its future roster building endeavors, all leading to the day the team drafted Ben Simmons.
Simmons arrived after the team had already parted ways with Hinkie and replaced him with Colangelo, but it was clear long before Hinkie left the dude was a basketball savant. The Sixers reaped the benefits of The Process long after he was gone, too. Not only did his work to dismantle and reassemble the franchise culminate in the Sixers getting the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, but it also gave them enough assets to trade for the No. 1 pick this past year, when they drafted Markelle Fultz.
Because of Hinkie’s magic, the Sixers got four top-3 picks. So far only two have panned out. Embiid and Simmons are stars. Fultz needs time. Okafor, at least in Philly, is now officially a bust.
You can’t blame Fultz’s bum shoulder (and the mishandling of it) on Hinkie. And you can’t blame Simmons missing all of last year on him either, giving the Sixers the ability to draft Fultz. It’s hard to even blame Hinkie for Embiid missing as much time as he has in his NBA career, even though Hinkie knew he was drafting the big man as damaged goods. But you can blame him for Okafor. It was a bad pick at the time and it’s only gotten worse.
Insiders and Process Truthers (one step beyond Process Trusters) may scoff at the notion that Hinkie, solely, was to blame for the Okafor debacle, but the fact remains it has been, without question, a debacle.
The Sixers tanked to try to get the top pick in the 2015 draft, hoping to take Karl-Anthony Towns or settling for guard D’Angelo Russell at No. 2. But the lottery gods shone dimly on the Sixers that season, and they settled for Okafor at No. 3. The Duke big man was well regarded in that draft, but his limitations on the defensive end were obvious. Plus he didn’t like to pass much on offense. That’s still who he is today.
The Sixers panicked. Embiid looked like he might never play and Nerlens Noel, who himself missed a season with injury after the Sixers traded for him after the 2013 draft, was utterly disgruntled and woeful on the offensive end. Okafor might have become the center the Sixers needed. It was a move wrought from desperation, not clear planning. It was as anti-Process as the Sixers would ever get.
What made it worse, of course, is that the Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis with the next pick. Panned at the time, Porzingis has already shown to be a generational talent and, along with Towns, clearly one of the two best players in the draft. Hinkie missed on Okafor, but he REALLY missed on Porzingis. And, yes, perhaps Hinkie wanted Porzingis all along and the owners made him take a “sure thing” over another question mark seven-footer. Maybe Sam never did anything wrong ever. This ownership group has not be great with openness.
After the draft, the problems with Okafor being on the roster continued out of circumstance, not panic. Embiid never saw the floor until 2016, and even then he barely played last season. Meanwhile, Okafor led the Sixers in scoring and was second on the team in rebounds as a rookie. His game had flaws, for sure, but there was also promise. How could you trade your best scorer when you still didn’t know if Embiid would ever play?
And then Embiid came back. Only, he wasn’t entirely back. The Sixers and Colangelo tried to work with a tetra-headed monster at center last season because of a number of factors: Embiid wasn’t healthy enough to play full minutes or back-to-back games, Noel was miserable to the point where he rehabbed his injury away from the team and Okafor, himself, was coming off injury. He was untradeable.
At the deadline last year it looked like Okafor was finally gone, but it was Noel who got dealt. Then Embiid was lost for the year and the Sixers literally didn’t have enough bodies to fill a lineup. Okafor had been benched so many times last year his value was shit, so trading the former No. 3 pick for nothing was not in Colangelo’s best (selfish) interests. Then Okafor got hurt again and missed 11 of the team’s final 12 games.
It was time to go. Except…nobody wanted to take him.
So now, despite losing a ton of weight this offseason and looking lean and mean and ready to play, Okafor continues to ride the pine, playing sparing minutes and waiting for someone to want him. He’s been clear in his public comments: He doesn’t feel like he’s part of the team. Now, with the Sixers not picking up his option, his trade value is somehow even lower than it was before.
He’s a one-dimensional player who can’t defend who will be a free agent at the end of the year. Who will trade for that?
At this point, he might get cut. And so, if this is the end of the Okafor saga in Philly, it’s important to remember how it happened. Colangelo couldn’t get a deal done and is finally willing to cut bait with Okafor. But Hinkie panicked and created this mess. The Process isn’t perfect.
But hey, had the Sixers taken Porzingis instead of Okafor they wouldn’t have Simmons. So…thanks, Jah. I guess.