The Philadelphia 76ers are "gauging interest" in rookie big man Jahlil Okafor before the trade deadline, reports Tom Moore of Calkins Media. Okafor was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft out of Duke and is averaging over 17 points per game this season.
Despite big statistics and an impressive pedigree, which includes a national title during his one year in college, Okafor's first season with the Sixers has been full of frustration. The team has struggled to find the right fit in the lineup for the 20-year-old and he's had occasional issues off the court that have distracted from his development.
Okafor was suspended for two games by the 76ers in December after multiple altercations at a Boston nightclub. At the time, the team said in a statement that Okafor was "a very important part of our organization and our future." That was two months ago, though, and while Okafor has remained out of trouble since then, his issues in fitting with the Sixers' other key building blocks have persisted.
The 76ers have tons of young talent, but they're still trying to figure out how to assemble all of those assets into a cohesive and effective unit. Could the team move on from Okafor during his first NBA season to try to expedite that process?
Why Okafor will get traded
Okafor is an extremely talented player and very valuable asset. As a rookie for Philadelphia, he's averaging 17.1 points per game -- tied for best among first-year players with Karl-Anthony Towns. If the 76ers decided to trade Okafor now, the team could still land significant value and continue building around other players.
The problem with Okafor in Philadelphia is largely fit. The 76ers already have one talented big man who plays close to the basket in Nerlens Noel. When those two have played together, it's been ugly. There's just not enough room in the modern NBA for the Sixers to prominently use two big men like Okafor and Noel in tandem. Toss in Joel Embiid, who is still recovering from injury, and it's clear Philadelphia has a logjam that was all but inevitable.
Furthermore, it appears Philadelphia prefers Noel over Okafor, if these rumors are to be believed. Noel is the leader behind the team's defensive identity and has radically improved as an offensive player since arriving in the league. While he's never going to have the post moves that Okafor already displays at age 20, his all-around game may make him a better long-term fit for a championship team.
In that case, it would make sense for the 76ers to strike while the iron is hot and get value for Okafor now. It's unlikely his value will get much higher, and if he's a likely goner then at some point Philadelphia needs to start retaining players who can actually build some chemistry together.
Why Okafor won't get traded
It's not often you see a rebuilding team consider trading a former top-three pick who currently is tied for the rookie lead in scoring. Okafor, for all his warts, remains a prodigious scoring talent who seems like a lock to score 15-20 points per game for the next dozen years. Even in a changing league, that kind of ability has value.
It's not like the Sixers would be pushing Okafor aside for no-brainer superstars, either. Noel is developing into a nice player and Embiid has lots of potential, but neither one is a lock to become an All-Star. Okafor's track record offensively is already more impressive. Moving on from a player as talented as Okafor now, simply because of concerns that he doesn't fit with Noel, could be considered hasty or shortsighted.
And there's no reason for the Sixers to hurry toward a deal. Okafor is signed to his rookie contract for a few years, so Philadelphia has no incentive to rush beyond maximizing Okafor's value. Assuming he finishes out this season healthy, he'll still be a very attractive asset to teams this summer, when the Sixers could take their time and be more deliberate about making such a big decision.
If the Sixers are already questioning whether Okafor fits in their long-term plans, it makes sense to see what other teams might offer for the talented big man. A deal coming together seems less likely, however, given that Philadelphia would presumably need a substantial offer to part with the former NCAA National Player of the Year. We'll put the odds of an Okafor deal before the deadline at 3/10.
* * *