After falling completely out of the young Philadelphia 76ers rotation, and after the team declined to pick up the fourth-year option on his contract, Jahlil Okafor told Philadelphia’s local media that he would like to either be traded or bought out.
Jahlil Okafor said he would like a buyout or a trade from the Sixers.— Jessica Camerato (@JCameratoNBCS) November 1, 2017
He also said he actually didn’t want the team to pick up his $6.3 million option for 2018-19. Okafor is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and will be free to sign with any team.
How did we get here?
The 76ers drafted Okafor, a talented scoring big man, No. 3 overall in the 2015 NBA draft, and he was expected to be a key piece of “The Process” that brought Philadelphia back to basketball prominence.
But Okafor was the third big man Philly drafted in as many years, and as Joel Embiid emerged as the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon, Okafor fell out of favor with the coaching staff and management.
In short: The Process failed Jahlil Okafor.
As the 76ers have rallied around and found some semblance of promise in their duo of Embiid and Ben Simmons, Okafor has played in just one game this season: 10 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks in 22 minutes in a 34-point loss to Toronto.
Okafor’s trade value has taken a massive hit with him not being on the floor, and with the 76ers declining the team option on his contract, it’s unlikely any team makes a competitive offer on him knowing that he can walk right out and leave in the summer.
“It puts me in a tough spot because I want to be on the court,” Okafor said, according to The Athletic’s Rich Hofmann. “This is my life, this is my career, and I’m not getting an opportunity here, which is fine. The team looks great and I’m not a part of that. They’re going to continue to do great things, but at the same time, I want to play.”
Here were Jahlil Okafor's initial comments on the Sixers not picking up his option. pic.twitter.com/rOoJeWWmDO— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) November 1, 2017
Okafor is scheduled to make just under $5 million this season. If they want to end this saga now, the Sixers could reach a buyout agreement for either a portion of or all of his salary for this year. But Okafor said the team has not engaged with him on that possibility.
.@JahlilOkafor "Bryan didn't think [a buyout] would be a good idea, because he said 'He would be giving me away to a team for free ...— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) November 1, 2017
Where could Okafor go?
A buyout would allow the 21-year-old center to sign with any team that’s interested in him, and last season, there was at least some interest.
The 76ers had trade discussions centered around Okafor with the Pelicans, Bulls, Nuggets, and Portland Trail Blazers, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey. In February, Philadelphia was so close to a deal, they sent Okafor home ostensibly to avoid an injury that would have nullified the trade.
But Philly never executed the trade and Okafor rejoined the team. Portland later traded for Jusuf Nurkic, the Nuggets enjoyed the emergence of Nikola Jokic (and added Mason Plumlee, then Paul Millsap), and the Pelicans paired Anthony Davis with DeMarcus Cousins.
That leaves Okafor’s hometown Bulls as the last remaining potential suitor with interest from last season. He might also find a second chance with the Brooklyn Nets; they gave one to D’Angelo Russell, after all, and he’s thriving there.
But the reality is Okafor’s trade value is little to none, especially without the fourth year on his deal.
Why hasn’t there been much interest?
Okafor is a talented player at a position that’s become a sort of pariah: The one-dimensional, non-shooting big man. He can score on the low block, but has been known to be a minus-defender and a ball stopper. It’s hard to tell if that has changed this season since he hasn’t been on the floor much.
And since he won’t be on the court playing meaningful minutes in a 76ers jersey again, it’s time for this saga to end in Philly and for Okafor start the second phase of his career elsewhere, whether via trade or buyout.