Jahlil Okafor hasn’t had the storybook start to his NBA career that he hoped for coming out of Duke. As one of the top talents in the 2015 NBA Draft, Okafor was selected third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers—and things began to slide downhill from there.
Okafor’s rookie season started out pretty well, as he averaged nearly 18 points and seven rebounds per game. A season-ending knee surgery then raised questions about his durability. Last season, those numbers dropped off significantly to just under 12 points and five rebounds per game. In the 2017-2018 season, Jahlil has played only two games.
He isn’t a part of the team anymore. Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo has been trying to trade the former lottery pick for months now with no takers. Head coach Brett Brown keeps Okafor on the bench while the team waits to get rid of him. Right now, waiting is all anyone is doing.
The former All-NBA Rookie has found himself aged out of the franchise before his 22nd birthday as the Sixers rely on Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to carry the team. Unfortunately, there’s nothing Okafor can do now but wait. Amazingly, he’s been able to keep his cool and stay patient with the whole process.
“I would like for them to just send me somewhere where I can get an opportunity,” said Okafor. “I’ve done everything they’ve asked of me and I would just like to get an opportunity to play with a trade or a buyout. I just hope something happens quickly. This is my third year in the NBA, and I know it’s a business. I don’t know if it’s fair or not, but in talking to other people in the NBA, talking to retired players, one thing I’ve heard them say is that what’s going on with me isn’t right and they’ve never seen anything like this before. I know it’s business, but in my eyes, I don’t know if it’s good business.”
Last season, teams seemed concerned about Jahlil’s knee and his long-term potential. While those concerns have been largely squashed, teams still aren’t biting on the young college star. Colangelo started out asking for two first-round picks. Then he dropped to one first round and a role player. Then he declared a Jahlil fire sale, offering the former No. 3 overall pick (who Colangelo’s predecessor, Sam Hinkie, took over Kristaps Porzingis) for a second-round pick.
At that price, it seems worth the risk, but teams still aren’t biting. Nonetheless, the Sixers seem committed to getting at least something for Okafor.
“We appreciate the effort that he has put forth, and other than a little frustration expressed recently, he’s been patient waiting for an opportunity to play,” said Colangelo. “I continue to explore opportunities with both Jahlil and [his agent] Bill Duffy to find a more suitable spot for him.”
Now, Colangelo hasn’t received zero offers, but he has turned down anything that threatened to eat into the Sixers’ cap space for next season. Colangelo has plans for that money (including the recent extension of forward Robert Covington), and he refuses to lose out on those deals as part of any trade.
So, the Sixers pushed forward with Covington’s deal, declining Okafor’s fourth-year option worth $6.2 million. In the process, they also significantly hurt his trade value. After all, Okafor will be 22 this offseason and a free agent. Why would any team trade away assets for someone they can just sign as a free agent?
For that reason, Okafor and his agent are now calling for the Sixers to buy him out so he can sign somewhere else on his own terms.
“I’m hopeful that Bryan will do what has always brought him and the players in his organization success and be flexible as Jahlil has handled himself the right way,” said Duffy. “There’s been a focus on trading Jah for the past nine months, but nothing has come to fruition. At this point, it’s time to exercise that flexibility because I don’t think anything in the marketplace is going to change. His contract is still going to expire in June, and teams are still going to hold onto their assets. We are simply requesting the organization be willing to proceed reasonably and allow Jah to get on with his career. The Sixers are positioned well for the present and the future, and we only want the same for Jahlil.”
Duffy wants to move on. The Sixers want to move on. Jahlil wants to move on. The Sixers, however, are looking to wait and try to package Okafor in with another trade before the February 9 deadline.
Unfortunately, that may mean a lost season for Okafor.