Jahlil Okafor

2 teams emerge in Jahlil Okafor trade talks

usa-jahlil-okafor-no-3-gallery.jpg
USA Today Images

2 teams emerge in Jahlil Okafor trade talks

Is the painfully uncomfortable Jahlil Okafor saga nearing a conclusion?

Keep an eye on two rebuilding Eastern Conference teams sure to be at the bottom of the standings. The Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks "are the most likely destinations for Okafor," according to NBA.com's David Aldridge.

Aldridge, along with others, has reported the Sixers are holding out to obtain at least a draft pick in return for Okafor. It obviously won't be a future first-round pick; the Sixers would be looking more at a second-rounder.

The Bulls pursued Okafor last season (as did the Blazers) but no deal materialized. It would be as good a fit as any for him — he went to high school in Chicago, and the Bulls have available playing time. Their starting center is Robin Lopez, a rim protector, but they're not getting much out of backup center Cristian Felicio. Felicio has played 16 minutes per game and those minutes could be reallocated to a player with more upside like Okafor.

The Hawks could also fit Okafor into their system, mostly because they need some sort of scoring from a big man. Dennis Schroder leads the Hawks with 22.6 points but nobody else is at 14.0, and rookie power forward John Collins leads their bigs with 10.5 points per game.

Both of these situations make sense for Okafor because the Bulls and Hawks have little to lose. They'd be trading away an insignificant asset for a player with offensive upside. If Okafor doesn't pan out in either city, no big deal, he'll be an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

Rival NBA players stick up for Jahlil Okafor

usa-jahlil-okafor.jpg
USA Today Images

Rival NBA players stick up for Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor is in such an uncomfortable situation.

The Sixers don't want to buy him out, they won't find much of anything in a trade, they're not playing him enough (or at all) to allow his value to grow, and they seem content to just let this all play out despite their lack of interest in retaining him past this season.

Okafor has been crushed by this city, but he deserves credit for handling the last two years as professionally as any professional athlete could. Not until Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2017 did he publicly gripe and complain about his role. Up until then, he was a good soldier, saying the right things, staying quiet and supporting his teammates. 

Brett Brown appreciates the way Okafor has acted throughout this ordeal. It just doesn't mean he's going to play him.

"Jahlil’s done nothing wrong since he’s been here,” Brown said Wednesday. “He’s handled himself with class and he’s been tremendous as a teammate. You’ve got this sort of slippery slope of Bryan (Colangelo) trying to do the best for the organization in a situation that he inherited and Jahlil wanting to play basketball.” 

Not everyone would have handled this precarious situation the same way. Nerlens Noel didn't. In Phoenix, Eric Bledsoe hasn't. In Pittsburgh, Martavis Bryant hasn't. Granted, all those situations involve different context, but the point is that most players don't stay as quiet as Okafor, especially when they've yet to reach a big payday.

Players around the NBA have taken notice of what the Sixers are doing with Okafor. On Thursday morning, injured Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas stuck up for the beleaguered Sixers center.

A few NBA players, including well-traveled point guard Briante Weber, retweeted Thomas' thoughts.

It's interesting to see players who have nothing to do with the Sixers or with Okafor defending him. Thomas has nothing to gain by tweeting that, and the reason he cares is probably because the NBA, like all sports, is a fraternity and he's watching one of his peers be mishandled. 

Okafor is a flawed player, but this is his NBA life, his future. The less he plays, the less chance he has to earn money. The Sixers declined that $6.3 million option for 2018-19, and at this point, it seems unlikely Okafor is able to find nearly that much in unrestricted free agency.

It's hard to figure out what the Sixers are waiting for. Will they do better than a future second-round pick for Okafor? At this point, does it even matter? What good is he doing you on the bench? What good is he doing the organization as an unhappy camper who'll be the subject of questions on a daily basis?

It seems like Colangelo just doesn't want to make a move that could make the Sixers look foolish down the road. No GM ever wants to be the GM who trades a player for 20 cents on the dollar.

But the damage in this situation is done. Barring an injury to Amir Johnson that allows Okafor to return to the Sixers' rotation to put up some numbers, the market won't be improving for the Sixers. That's just not how leverage works. 

Folks outside of Philly are noticing it, too.

Brett Brown sees both sides of Jahlil Okafor situation

Brett Brown sees both sides of Jahlil Okafor situation

Brett Brown sees both sides of the Jahlil Okafor situation.

Okafor wants to play. The Sixers would rather find a trade than get nothing in return in a buyout. Brown recognizes where everyone is coming from in this tricky scenario. 

“The frustration that Jahlil has, I get,” Brown said Wednesday. “I understand that. I don’t begrudge him at all and I’m going to continue to coach him. [Bryan Colangelo's] going to continue to try to do his job.” 

Okafor told Colangelo on Tuesday he would like a buyout after the team declined his fourth-year player option (see story). Okafor said he also is open to a trade, but that seems less likely. He will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. 

“I look at Bryan,” Brown continued. “He’s inherited a situation. He’s trying to do the right thing by the organization.”

Brown has maintained throughout trade talks over the years that he will keep being Okafor’s coach “until somebody tells me I’m not.” Even though Okafor is out of the rotation and has played in only one game this season, Brown and his staff will work with him to make sure he continues his development and conditioning while he’s benched.

“[I am] trying to help him move forward, whether that’s here or someplace else,” Brown said, adding, “at 21 years old, he’s got a hell of a future." 

Okafor stayed engaged with the Sixers during Wednesday’s 119-109 win over the Hawks (see observations). He got off the bench during timeouts and between quarters to greet teammates as they came off the court. 

“Jahlil’s done nothing wrong since he’s been here,” Brown said. “He’s handled himself with class and he’s been tremendous as a teammate. You’ve got this sort of slippery slope of Bryan trying to do the best for the organization in a situation that he inherited and Jahlil wanting to play basketball.” 

Brown said he takes the human element into consideration when navigating this situation. 

"I’m always reminded with my young guys, what is the high road?" Brown said. "What is the right thing to do? What would you want somebody to tell your son? All I know is, to come in with your head high and do your job and things will work out. I truly believe that."