The lottery is over. The NBA draft is still roughly a month away. The playoffs are funneling toward the finals. Free agency hasn’t begun. That means it’s trade speculation season for hoop heads.
Not surprisingly, the 76ers have been mentioned as potential trade partners for sundry teams. That’s what happens when you have the first overall pick in the upcoming draft, a bunch of picks in subsequent seasons, and a clogged frontcourt with too many ill-fitting but tradable pieces. The Sixers are said to “covet” an additional high pick in this year’s draft. Add that to the belief that the Sixers are high on Nerlens Noel for assorted reasons, and it’s easy to understand why Jahlil Okafor’s name keeps popping up these days.
Okafor was second among all rookies in scoring and he led the Sixers in that category. He was also a liability on defense and, too often, a ball-movement killer on offense. Still, he’s worth something on the trade market. He’s the rare expendable frontcourt redundancy that could return real value. In theory. The potential problem is identifying a team that wants Okafor and has something the Sixers desire in exchange.
Let’s go through the NBA. We can eliminate some teams right away for various reasons: because they’re at the top of the NBA food chain and wouldn’t want a young guy when they’re trying to win now; because they already have a big man or big men; because they don’t play a style suited to Okafor’s game; because they don’t have much to give the Sixers in return. You could apply one or several of those to the following organizations: Cleveland, Toronto, Miami, Charlotte, Washington, Indiana, Detroit, New York, Brooklyn, Golden State, OKC, San Antonio, Clippers, Memphis, Houston, Utah, Sacramento, New Orleans and Minnesota.
Anything is possible. This isn’t scientific. Crazy/unexpected/lopsided trades happen. (Shouts to Vlade and Vivek.) Perhaps a trade materializes with one of those teams, it’s just that those destinations don’t seem likely. Moving on.
In the maybe category, we have teams that are rebuilding, teams that need a shakeup, teams that are still on the rise, teams that love to tinker and teams that are wholly unpredictable. They include Atlanta, Chicago, Orlando, Milwaukee, Portland, and Dallas. We’ll take them in order.
The Hawks are in danger of losing Al Horford in free agency this summer, and Paul Millsap is a free agent next year. Maybe there’s a deal variation that lands the Sixers Jeff Teague (UFA in 2017) or Dennis Schroder (RFA in 2017). Chicago is a mess. The Bulls really need a makeover, but beyond Jimmy Butler, who would be tough (if not impossible to pry away), not sure what they have that might make the Sixers weak in the knees. Orlando has potential in its backcourt, which the Sixers need. Victor Oladipo or Mario Hezonja would look excellent in a Sixers uniform, but would Okafor fit with Nikola Vucevic? Probably not. Not sure Okafor fits in Milwaukee, either. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the guy there, and they have Jabari Parker. Plus adding Okafor means somehow getting rid of Greg Monroe (he’s not a free agent until next offseason). Portland made the playoffs this year in surprising fashion. They’re on the rise again. They could use an upgrade in the paint for sure, but it doesn’t appear they have the picks/players to offer in return. (No, they’re not giving up CJ McCollum.) Dallas is a wild card. Mark Cuban is unknowable.
That leaves four teams that might be the best bets: Boston, Lakers, Phoenix and Denver. According to excellent long-time NBA reporter David Aldridge, who wrote the piece about the Sixers' coveting thy neighbor’s high first-rounder, “trading Okafor would be the easiest and best way for Philly to get another high first-round pick.” He’s right about that. The Lakers pick second. Boston picks third (along with 16 and 23). Phoenix is fourth (along with 13 and 28). Denver is seventh (along with 15 and 19).
As Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak admitted in the aforementioned Aldridge piece, the Lakers “need a player in the frontcourt.” Meanwhile, they have Jordan Clarkson (RFA) in the backcourt, along with D’Angelo Russell and Lou Williams. Would they be willing to flip Russell for Okafor? Or the second pick for Okafor? Those deals make sense for the Sixers. They make somewhat less sense for the Lakers considering L.A. could just stay put at two and plug in whichever player the Sixers don’t take. Much simpler for them. Smarter, too.
Denver and Phoenix both have multiple first-round picks in this draft and rosters that need alteration. But both also have big men in place that might make those maneuvers complicated. Like Okafor, Nikola Jokic was named All-Rookie first team for the Nuggets. Alex Len hasn’t been nearly as good for Phoenix, but he was a first-round pick a few years ago. Okafor wouldn’t fit very well with either of them, which probably means getting creative to work with those teams.
That brings us to the most popular theory: Okafor to Boston. There were rumors that the Celtics wanted him at the trade deadline. Even without additional parts, the third pick might be enough for the Sixers to do a deal. Boston also has a cache of other current and future picks to work with, along with some players it could throw in as sweeteners. I get why dealing with Boston makes sense for the Sixers, but does Okafor make the Celtics legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference? He’s not a rim protector or a monster rebounder, he needs the ball on offense to make an impact, and his defense would probably make Brad Stevens' head explode. I’m not so sure it’s as obvious from Boston’s end as it is from Philly’s view. And yet the Celtics have to do something. Maybe they talk themselves into Okafor.
Admittedly, that’s a super-simplified, cursory look at the situation. The Sixers only need to find one taker. With the draft and free agency approaching and the salary cap set to jump significantly, it’s about to be NBA silly season. There’s always lots of movement. The guess here is that the Sixers unload Okafor during the pending madness. It makes too much sense from their perspective, though maybe there aren’t as many clear-cut potential trade partners as it seemed.