76ers

Jahlil Okafor makes clear he wants out of Philly

Jahlil Okafor makes clear he wants out of Philly

CAMDEN, N.J. — Jahlil Okafor wants out of Philadelphia.

A day after the team declined to pick up his fourth-year player option for next season, Okafor was clear on what he would like to happen.

"It could be a buyout, it could be a trade," he said Wednesday. "I just want something to happen rather quickly."

Okafor said that after the Sixers declined his option, he told president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo he would like a buyout. The Sixers had looked to trade Okafor several times throughout his career.

"He said that he felt that if he bought me out, another team would be getting me for free," Okafor said. "But that's where we stand today because you waited so long to trade me. There's nothing else to do. I'm not playing here and at the end of the season, I'm an unrestricted free agent. So I want to get on the court and play and produce." 

Okafor said he was surprised the Sixers even reached the point where they would need to make a decision on his option. He thought he would have been moved by the Oct. 31 deadline, which was why he hadn't been riled up about being out of the rotation and appearing in only one game. So when the Sixers didn't exercise the option, he was ready to move on.

"I was fine with that," Okafor said. "Honestly, I didn't want them to pick up my option. I've been going through a lot since I've been here. So the fact that I know that at the end of the season I would at least have an opportunity to play elsewhere, that's great. Now I'm just in a position to where, how can I get on the court? That's not happening here. I want to play. I want to play."

The Sixers were in a similar situation last season when Nerlens Noel candidly spoke out about his displeasure with his playing time. The team ultimately traded Noel to the Mavericks at the deadline. Okafor, also involved in trade talks at that time, remained more tight-lipped about his uncertainty. But on Wednesday, he didn't hold back.

"I've tried to be professional," Okafor said. "I'm going to continue to be professional. But at some point, I have to defend myself and this is my career. I'm not sure he (Colangelo) cares about that. I think that's kind of evident at this point. I understand it's a business and you're going to do what's best for the organization, but as people, from a personal level, you would hope, OK, let's get Jah out of here, let him go play somewhere because I'm 21, I'm healthy, I'm trying to get on the right path in my career."

Okafor believes of the two scenarios, a buyout or a trade, a buyout is more likely given the fact the Sixers have yet to reach a deal and his value now is lower because of his contract status.

"Talking to my agent, there were definitely deals on the table," Okafor said. "Bryan just didn't deem they were fair, which I understand, I'm a No. 3 pick. But at the same time, that's what teams were offering. Me and my agent started getting the hint they weren't going to offer more so it was whether you were going to make a move on it or not, and you waited too long and now I'm here today. I'm not saying a trade isn't possible, but I just know it's going to be really difficult knowing that I'm an unrestricted free agent at this point after the season."

Okafor has never had a clearly-defined role on the Sixers. He was drafted out of Duke one year after Joel Embiid and came into a system with three starting-caliber centers. He was a starter. He was a backup. He was a DNP. He was a center. He was unsuccessfully paired with Embiid in a twin towers scenario. He was … well, that was never really straightened out.

"When I first got here, we weren't the best team," Okafor said. "It was just Nerlens and I. Joel wasn't healthy so I was on the court, I was playing, so I really didn't have any complaints. That's all I wanted to do was just play. That's why I made such drastic changes this summer, just to get healthy and where I am today. But I'm not getting that opportunity to play. When I first got here, I wasn't really tripping because I was still playing.

"This is my life. This is my career. I'm not getting the opportunity here, which is fine. The team looks great. I'm not a part of that. I want the team to do great things, but at the same time, I want to play."

Sixers forced to wait for next opponent after Celtics-Bucks Game 7

Sixers forced to wait for next opponent after Celtics-Bucks Game 7

Waiting is the hardest part.

That’s the situation the Sixers are dealing with regarding their second-round opponent. They will face the winner of the series between Boston and Milwaukee, which is headed to a deciding Game 7 after the Bucks’ 97-86 home win on Thursday night. 

Game 7 is set for 8 p.m. on Saturday at TD Garden.

The Sixers have been idle since their Game 5 victory to eliminate the Miami Heat on Tuesday. It marked the franchise’s first series win since 2012.

The layoff hasn’t been a bother to the Sixers, who say their main focus is on themselves no matter who the opponent ends up being in round No. 2 (see story).

“We’ll manage whatever the Milwaukee-Boston tells us tonight, and that’s not on my mind,” head coach Brett Brown said after Thursday’s practice regarding the team getting rusty. 

“I thought we sweated and competed. I think we chose a tiny few things on defense and a tiny few things on offense that are helpful no matter if it’s Boston or Milwaukee. Some of it, which is always great, there was carryover from the Miami series. That’s kind of the holy grail. You can find stuff that’s going to do you well in the next series and tremendous carryover. We went there today. I thought today was good.”

Sixers focused more on themselves than Round 2 opponent

Sixers focused more on themselves than Round 2 opponent

CAMDEN, N.J. — Tuesday’s series-clinching victory was a monumental achievement for the Sixers. And while the team briefly savored Brett Brown’s first playoff series win as a head coach in memorable fashion, it was back at practice Thursday afternoon, with its focus shifted to Round 2.

“It was fun,” Joel Embiid said of the celebration with Brown. “I was happy for him because obviously after what he’s been through, two years ago he had a team that only won 10 games and this year he’s at, what, 56? I was really happy for him, and that was the first playoff series that he won, so it was something we felt like we needed to celebrate. But we’re on to the next one.”

That next opponent will be either the Celtics or the Bucks. Boston leads the series, 3-2, and can advance with a win in Game 6 Thursday night at 8 p.m. If the Celtics win, the Sixers will play Game 1 of the second round in Boston on Saturday night.

“Because we don’t know who you’re going to play, you don’t have that luxury of time,” Brown said. “No matter who you play, you better get back in transition defense and you better rebound. But it’s easier for sure when you can zoom in and say, ‘OK, you got Giannis, or you got Marcus Smart.’”

Though they don’t have the advantage of knowing their opponent, the Sixers do have a few extra days to recover from what was an extremely physical series against the Heat. They also have a chance to hone their own sets and to sharpen their execution. Ersan Ilyasova mentioned that, among other things, the Sixers worked on creating space for Embiid post-ups.

“At the end of the day, whoever comes out, I think it’s up to us,” Ilyasova said. “Recently, the way we’ve played, we have to focus on ourselves and if we do the right things, it’s going to be in our favor.”

Boston or Milwaukee is just not the primary concern at the moment. Sure, the Sixers will tune into Game 6 with interest. Embiid said he’ll be watching at home as usual with Markelle Fultz and Justin Anderson. But the intense, team-specific preparation won’t start in earnest until that series concludes.

“We just prepare for both teams,” Embiid said. “We’re going to be ready for whoever. We played them in the regular season, so we have a lot of scouting reports, so I’m sure the coaches will do their job to get us ready.”

The Sixers went 1-3 against the Celtics in the regular season, while they had a 2-2 record against the Bucks. However, Kyrie Irving, who is out for the playoffs with a left patella injury, played in three of those matchups with Boston. And the Sixers crushed the Bucks in the regular-season finale, 130-95. Regardless of who they play, the Sixers will be favored. If they play close to the level they’re capable of, they should advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Playing in his first postseason, Embiid gave the mature answer of a seasoned veteran when asked if he’d prefer to face Milwaukee or Boston.

“It’s the playoffs. I don’t think it matters,” Embiid. “As long as you play your game and stick to your concepts, you’re going to be fine.”