76ers

First press conference foreshadowed Jahlil Okafor's time with Sixers

First press conference foreshadowed Jahlil Okafor's time with Sixers

It was a seemingly innocuous move. At least that’s what he thought.

Way back on June 28, 2015, Jahlil Okafor was introduced in Philadelphia after being drafted with the No. 3 overall pick. When the press conference was over, Okafor quickly dropped his jersey onto the stage and turned to walk away.

The reaction to the optics was way worse than the scene in reality. But in the end, the moment served as a precursor to Okafor’s time in the city: from the excitement of oozing potential to simply being discarded.

Okafor came to the Sixers with great fanfare. While he was the latest center to be selected in the lottery by the team, he brought certain elements that Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel did not.

First, Okafor had the polish. Noel, and especially Embiid, offered their own offensive gifts entering the league, but the 6-foot-11, 275-pounder was different. He was the old-school big man with the huge hands, swift feet and soft touch in the paint.

“Someone that can draw a double-team, and we don’t see those a lot in our league right now. We don’t see a lot … someone that can draw a double-team is enormously useful. Enormously useful,” former Sixers exec Sam Hinkie said of Okafor in June 2015. “That’s one of the things he can do. Someone that has hands that are as good as his, that can catch every ball thrown his way, that can do all sorts of things in the post, that can be a pick-and-roll player like that. That’s hard to find. That’s really hard to find, which is why you’ll hear people that have coached him and you’ll hear people that have been around him rave about him. We feel very excited to be able to take him.”

Then there was the pedigree. Okafor was an absolute winner. From city and state titles as a star at Whitney Young High School in his native Chicago to the 2015 national championship at Duke, Okafor reached the mountaintop at every level of basketball.

“Winning has always been my main focus,” Okafor said prior to his rookie season. “I have always hated losing. I am a sore loser. I do not take losing well. I have always been about winning because I have been winning my entire life.”

Perhaps the best thing Okafor had going for him was health. With Embiid and Noel missing seasons because of injuries, Okafor was ready to suit up from Day 1. 

And things were good for the big man at the start — well, besides that whole wanting to win thing. Okafor recorded 17.5 points on 50.8 percent shooting, 7.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.2 blocks per game during his first professional season en route to being named first-team All-Rookie.

While those numbers are all well and good, this is Philadelphia. Even low-post players that aren't centers learn to play with a certain oomph. The big man is simply held to a higher standard in the home of Center City.

After all, this is where Dolph Schayes pounded the glass. It’s where Wilt Chamberlain took steps toward becoming the GOAT. It’s where Bobby Jones hustled his way into fans’ hearts and Billy Cunningham leaped to one rebound after another.

This is the city where Caldwell Jones terrorized opponents, Moses Malone intimidated foes in the paint and Darryl Dawkins hammered rims into oblivion. 

It’s where an undersized power forward named Charles Barkley made people realize why he was called “The Round Mound of Rebound.” This is the town where Rick Mahorn and Derrick Coleman played with that beloved nastiness. This is the town where Theo Ratliff swatted shots out of the sky and Dikembe Mutombo followed suit with that signature finger wag.

So while Okafor caught the locals’ attention with all of the pretty spin moves and drop steps for buckets, it was always going to be the grit, or lack thereof, that let Philadelphia know who he really was on the floor.

A deeper look revealed everything you needed to see. Okafor capped that rookie season with an average of 7.0 boards a night, but 17 times in 53 games that year he ended with five rebounds or less. 

Then there’s the defense. Forget not being good enough on the defensive end of the floor, Okafor couldn’t even be bothered. I mean, remember this:

He has a defensive rating of 110.0 per 100 possessions for his career. In other words, teams score 110 points for every 100 possessions Okafor is on the court.

“I have to make him holistic and point out defensive flaws,” Brown said in January 2016. “That’s my job, especially when you beat your chest and carry a flag about playing defense in this city. You can’t hide from anything.”

Okafor couldn’t hide anymore. Not from attacking opponents, fans’ criticism or even his own doubt about his skill set.

Throw in the off-court issues from that rookie season, including a Boston street fight and speeding across the Ben Franklin Bridge, and the writing was on the wall for Okafor. 

Then came the long-awaited and sensational play of fellow center Embiid last season and the writing was all over every single wall Okafor was forced to look at inside the Wells Fargo Center and the Sixers’ training complex.

Sure, the Sixers bungled the ending. They sent him home last season when they thought a trade was imminent only to be forced to bring him back into the fold when the deal fell apart. Then the organization had Okafor go through yet another offseason with the squad only to decline to pick up the fourth-year option on his contract.

“Honestly, I didn't want them to pick up my option,” Okafor said last month. “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.”

It’s all water under the bridge now — more specifically the Brooklyn Bridge — after the Sixers dealt Okafor, Nik Stauskas and a second-round pick to the Nets for Trevor Booker.

Now Okafor gets a second chance to prove he was worth all of the buzz entering the NBA. Hopefully, for him, he doesn’t get quickly discarded yet again like that jersey from his introductory press conference.

Source: Sixers will acquire Mike Muscala, send away Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Justin Anderson in 3-team trade

Source: Sixers will acquire Mike Muscala, send away Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Justin Anderson in 3-team trade

The Sixers were involved in a trade with Carmelo Anthony.

Exhale, Sixers fans, Anthony is not coming here. Instead, Anthony is being shipped to the Hawks — who will likely waive the veteran forward — with a 2022 protected first-round pick for point guard Dennis Schroder, according to a report Thursday by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The Sixers in turn will send Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to the Thunder and Justin Anderson to the Hawks to acquire Atlanta’s Mike Muscala, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark.

Yahoo! Sports' Shams Charania first reported the Sixers' side of the deal.

The move makes sense for the Sixers on a couple fronts. After missing out on Serbian forward Nemanja Bjelica, who reportedly agreed to a deal with the team and then backed out, Brett Brown gets a player with a similar skill set in Muscala. The former Bucknell star has great size (6-foot-11, 240 pounds) and the ability to shoot (37.8 percent from three for his career).

It also makes sense from a roster standpoint. The team had a bit of a logjam on the wing and had 16 players for 15 roster spots. By losing two players and getting only one back, the Sixers are now at 15 players under contract. That also includes Jerryd Bayless, who will likely be bought out or stretched, but does not include 2017 second-round pick Jonah Bolden or 2018 second-round pick Shake Milton.

Muscala had a career year for the lowly Hawks. He averaged 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 20 minutes a game — all career marks. He also hit 37.1 percent of his threes on 3.2 attempts. A second-round pick by the Mavericks in 2013, Muscala has spent all five of his NBA seasons in Atlanta.

More on the Sixers

Sixers fans need to relax about team's offseason

Sixers fans need to relax about team's offseason

Here’s a brief message that some Sixers fans can use right now: relax.

Remember that you have a team with two budding superstars that reached the Eastern Conference semifinals just last season and should only be headed upward from here.

Sure, there’s going to be some level of disappointment when Brett Brown proclaimed the Sixers were going “star hunting” this summer only to come up empty on the free-agent market outside of re-signing their own players.

But, more than anything, how things transpired for the Sixers over the past few weeks should let you know that much more goes into landing a free agent than simply basketball.

Look at the first major domino to fall in free agency, Paul George. The five-time All-Star didn’t hesitate to make his decision and announced he was rejoining the Oklahoma City Thunder at a Russell Westbrook party shortly after midnight on July 1.

Despite the Sixers being in the mix for George, the Thunder always had the upper hand. The Thunder had George in the fold for a full year after acquiring him from Indiana last summer and used every day to convince him OKC was the right place to move forward.

“They honestly check the boxes where I needed those boxes to be checked from what a player wants and needs out of a front office, out of a medical group, out of teammates, out of coaching staff,” George said during exit interviews. “I mean, honestly, they can't say it anymore [than] that. They checked the boxes on what needs to be checked.”

Even with George on the market, the Sixers always had their top focus on the biggest available fish in the game: LeBron James. They even secured a meeting with James’ camp, albeit only with agent Rich Paul and not the three-time champion himself. 

Still, the Sixers, with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid leading the way, were serious contenders for James as Paul confirmed.

"The teams that he looked at, he looked at for guys like Ben Simmons,” Paul, who is also Simmons’ agent, said on NBA TV during a summer league game. “There's a reason why he looked at Philadelphia, but ultimately he chose the Lakers.”

And what ultimately made James join the Lakers, no matter what his representatives say to the contrary, had little to do with basketball. James has turned himself into an entertainment mogul, so who better to learn from than Magic Johnson? 

After all, King James reportedly already had dinner in Los Angeles last week with Al Pacino and Leonardo DiCaprio

We all love Philadelphia, but those types of Hollywood power brokers aren’t exactly making reservations for restaurants on Broad Street.

So the Sixers swung and missed on George for familiarity and James for off-court opportunities. 

Perhaps you can swallow missing out on two of the game’s best players, but now role players are spurning the franchise too? That’s enough to push a Sixers fan over the edge … until you dig a little bit deeper.

Nemanja Bjelica had his qualifying offer with the Minnesota Timberwolves rescinded and immediately jumped to the best situation for him when he reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the Sixers.

However, Bjelica informed the team he was backing out of the deal and returning to Europe. That was until fellow Serbian and Kings general manager, Vlade Divac, came calling. Now the two sides are apparently deep in discussion on a multi-year contract.

Once you push through the initial wave of confusion, you find out that Bjelica simply didn’t want to move his family to Philadelphia for a year and be back on the hunt next summer. He was seeking what most of us do in a new job, which is stability. 

While that may seem a bit unreasonable for an NBA reserve big man, you can’t blame a guy for trying. And now it appears he may find some of what he desired in Sacramento.

Back here in Philadelphia, the Sixers are surely second-guessing what happened to their star hunt this offseason. While it came up empty-handed, the Sixers — and their fans — have to understand that so much more factors into securing a free agent than what actually takes place on the court and is not a red flag on the franchise.

More on the Sixers