76ers

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.

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

usa_tlc_mike_muscala_justin_anderson.jpg
USA Today Images

Report: 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, per a report by Yahoo! Sports' Shams Charania.

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.

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 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 multiyear 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 an red flag on the franchise.