NBA players want Jahlil Okafor to be freed from the Philadelphia 76ers, where the third-year center has been caught in limbo. On Monday, two more players joined the “FREE JAH” hashtag movement.
Okafor, the third-overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, has only played two games for the 76ers this season, and probably won’t play another game for the team. The big man came into this season slimmed down and refocused, but he hasn’t got chances to play and clearly isn’t part of the team’s future.
Last week, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant all posed with Okafor’s dad and his “FREE JAH” shirt. Now, Devin Booker has tweeted it, and Jayson Tatum also quote tweeted it
FREE JAH— Devin Booker (@DevinBook) November 27, 2017
FACTS!! https://t.co/vsMIRlqzmY— Jayson Tatum (@jaytatum0) November 27, 2017
Before this, Isaiah Thomas and Jared Dudley both talked about Okafor’s situation on Twitter.
Man they acting like @JahlilOkafor don’t got game. Let the man go and rock out for somebody else! Crazy how they doing him— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) November 2, 2017
NBA players always recognized how organizations take care of their employees. Esp when their professional https://t.co/m6RPXXPF6u— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) November 2, 2017
It seems like it’s only a matter of time before more NBA players join the “movement.”
Why hasn’t Okafor been freed?
Philadelphia declined Okafor’s team option for next season, but thus far, they have refused to buy him out of the final year of his contract. The 76ers want something back in a trade, despite Okafor’s virtually non-existent trade value. There are teams who like Okafor as a long-term project, but none like him enough — at least so far — to give up an actual trade asset.
The 76ers’ demands have fallen. Originally, the team was asking for two first-round picks, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, but now they’re only requesting a second rounder.
"We appreciate the effort that [Okafor] has put forth, and other than a little frustration expressed recently, he's been patient waiting for an opportunity to play," 76ers general manager Bryan Colangelo told ESPN. "I continue to explore opportunities with both Jahlil and [agent] Bill Duffy to find a more suitable spot for him."
Okafor has health concerns and is a questionable fit in the modern NBA, given his ineffective defense and an offensive game mostly based around post touches. Still, Okafor averaged nearly 18 points per game his rookie year, and there is belief that someone with his skills could be turned into a quality rotation player. He’s still just 21.
Philadelphia may choose to retain Okafor until February’s trade deadline, hoping for a deal. If they can’t find one, there’s no reason not to buy him out at that point.
Why did Okafor turn into a player-supported cause?
As Jordan Brenner detailed in an SB Nation feature before the season, Okafor is a sympathetic figure.
Philadelphia has a bad history of mismanaging player situations, like the Markelle Fultz debacle earlier this season and Nerlens Noel’s minutes last season. Okafor is another player who has been forced to speak out to the media about his unhappiness, rather than trusting the front office to fix it.
Okafor told ESPN this on Monday: “I would like for them to just send me somewhere where I can get an opportunity. 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.”
Clearly, Okafor’s peers feel for him, enough to speak out on his behalf. Will it help? Because it’s Philadelphia, who knows.