While you were perusing Joel Embiid’s Instagram account, news broke Thursday afternoon that erstwhile Sixers center Jahlil Okafor, a casualty of The Process, has been freed from his seat on the Philadelphia bench. Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft, will reportedly go to the Nets in a trade that sees Trevor Booker go to Philly, while Brooklyn also receives Nik Stauskas and a 2019 second-rounder that belongs to the Knicks. The Nets will waive Sean Kilpatrick to make roster space.
Okafor’s career, obviously, is the big winner here, as he’ll get a chance to audition for teams before hitting free agency and potentially carve out a home for his next contract if all is simpatico. With that said, let’s examine how the Nets and Sixers made out.
This is a no-risk deal for the Nets. There’s really nothing bad about it for Brooklyn. While it feels like an eternity since he led Duke to a national title, Okafor turns 22 years old next week and remains one of the league’s more talented post scorers. While his defensive problems have rightfully called into doubt his ability to anchor a quality team on the inside, he’s gotten nothing close to a fair shake in Philadelphia over the last couple years. Okafor averaged 17.5 points per game and made the All-Rookie first team in 2015–16 before injuries and a lack of opportunity hampered his case for playing time.
So, the Nets, who, yes, are still waiting to own their own first-round picks after the disastrous Celtics trade, effectively add one with this deal (technically two, counting Stauskas). Okafor should slot into their rotation immediately and give them a legitimate offensive focal point. While his prospects long-term may no longer be starry, there’s room to generate a return as the Nets focus on his development and figure out how they might use him best. Sean Marks continues to make intelligent decisions at the helm, and Brooklyn could benefit long term from rehabbing Okafor’s career. Worst-case, the Nets get two expiring deals and a pick in exchange for Booker, who had become a valuable presence to the team, but was surely not a part of their long-term plan.
While Okafor struggles to rebound out of his area and protect the basket, he has gone a long way to get in shape and improve his body. Having made just two appearances for the Sixers this season, we’ll get to see how far it can take him. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson likes to play a fast-paced style that may not wholly sync up with Okafor’s catch-and-post tendencies, but again, there’s really no reason not to try it out as the big man approaches free agency. Okafor is also a good passer out of the post, but was rarely utilized to that end in Philly. His time was up. And finally, he gets a chance to play his way out of exile.
Obviously, this isn’t a home run for Philly, but trading what amounts to spare parts for a solid veteran player in Booker to augment a youthful team that looks playoff-credible at this stage is still a win. Certainly, they may have been able to get more for Okafor two years ago given some foresight, but the uncertainty with Joel Embiid’s health, the presence of Nerlens Noel and an overall mixed direction post- Sam Hinkie made things complicated. It’s certainly possible the Knicks pick becomes a useful 31–40 selection in 2019, but given that Philly still owns seven other second-rounders in the next three drafts in addition to their own, it’s rather negligible right now.
The situation had evolved into a frustrating one for all parties, with Okafor unable to find minutes and the Sixers declining his option and punting his rights down the road. Okafor was nearly traded to the Pelicans last season before a deal fell through (with New Orleans later dealing for DeMarcus Cousins). He was largely hung out to dry, and while concerns over his fit in Philly were legitimate (and the Sixers, of course, evolved into an intriguing team without him), it stands to reason the situation could have been handled better.
Off-court incidents that led to Okafor’s two-game suspension as a rookie clouded his reputation early on (in a manner perhaps unfairly harsh for a teenager), and the marriage never worked. The Sixers, of course, took him one spot ahead of Kristaps Porzingis in that draft. It’s water under the bridge at this point. Moving on is a plus for everyone involved.
Booker will add toughness and experience and comes on an expiring deal that preserves Philly’s flexibility this summer. It’s unclear how much he’ll be used with Amir Johnson, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Richaun Holmes all part of the frontcourt rotation already. With Embiid’s ongoing need for occasional rest, it certainly presents another viable option as the Sixers make a push for the postseason. Isn’t it nice when everything just makes sense?