The Case For Trading Jahlil Okafor
Three consecutive drafts, three consecutive centers picked and 41 wins. That's the cliff notes version of the Philadelphia 76ers' last three miserable seasons. The weird thing is, the logic that created their current mess checks out. Nerlens Noel came into the 2013 season with a string of injuries and Joel Embiid -- another athletic big -- was more or less as a contingency plan in case Noel was slow to come back. The following year, when it became apparent that Noel's raw offensive game wasn't going to make the kind of immediate impact they had hoped for, the decision to select the highly skilled, 6'11" Jahlil Okafor with the third-overall pick in 2015 filled the need for post scoring while Embiid recovered from his injuries.
In retrospect it may seem like a draft strategy your mom concocted ("pick the tallest ones!"), we assure you that someone who understands basketball way better than you or I constructed the 2015-16 Sixers dumpster fire. That doesn't mean their plan worked, of course, but it always doesn't mean that they're doomed to an eternity of puzzling, inconsequential personnel decisions, either. In fact, those redundant draft picks may be on the verge of paying off in a big way.
A RAY OF HOPE HOBBLES THROUGH THE CLOUDS
With positive news slowly leaking out about Joel Embiid's progress, the likelihood he'll make his NBA debut -- two inches taller than he was at Kansas, mind you -- becomes better with every passing day. It's not an exact timetable for his return, but it's a reason for optimism nonetheless. Not only has he finally re-emerged from whatever secret physical therapy laboratory where he's been rehabbing his ankle, but he's stopped wearing a boot all together. In fact, he's actually playing basketball now -- like on a real court with a hoop and everything! What's more, he fired his agent this week and is expected to sign with CAA's Leon Rose, who represents the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. You think Rose would agree to represent a 7'2", 250-lb paperweight? Ok.
According to sources, Joel Embiid is expected to sign with Leon Rose
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) January 13, 2016
Face it, barring any setbacks -- which have happened in the past and remain totally plausible -- Embiid will be in an NBA uniform at some point before President Trump is sworn in (joke). That opens the door to some exciting, impactful roster moves. Why? Because his brothers in arms -- Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor -- are proving incompatible as a big man tandem, so one of them has to go.
THE NEXT STEP
After they drafted Okafor, we all knew the Sixers would be forced to make some tough decisions in the near future -- we just didn't count on it involving trading Okafor. Turns out, that might make the most sense.
A league executive said Okafor and Embiid cannot play together. "They are both centers," he said. "They both can only guard centers. They can't defend power forwards or stretch fours in this league."
He believes that Noel and Embiid would work because Embiid can stretch the floor. "He can go out to the three-point line and shoot it," he said. "But when Noel and Okafor end up together, both of them cannot go out further than 15 feet. That makes it really difficult on the offensive end of the floor. And also Okafor is a liability on defense."
Not to put too much stock in the off-handed comments of some nameless NBA executive, but there's something simultaneously insane and intriguing about the prospect of parting ways with the 20-year-old they lost 64 games to get. The first question, of course, is why would you cut ties with Jahlil freakin' Okafor less than a year into his professional career? The easiest answer: he doesn't seem thrilled to be a 76er, and that's a recipe for disaster in Philadelphia. Just ask Chip Kelly what happens when you get on that city's shit-list. Not only was it apparent that he did not want to come to Philly on draft night (he looked miserable after they called his name), but he's already missed time for behavorial stuff, which speaks to how unhappy he probably is losing more games in three months than he has in his entire life. His effort of the defensive end, his sulking and his brawl on the streets of Boston aren't exactly ringing endorsements of the kid's character going forward, either.
Why not trade Noel, Embiid, or both?
Okafor has by far the most trade value of the three (duh). Not only is he leading all NBA rookies in scoring (17.4 PPG), but he's also managed to stay healthy while playing more minutes per game than his peers (30), which distinguishes him from the oft injured Noel and Embiid. Those two are shrouded in red flags as far as other GMs are concerned. Then there's the reality that Noel and/or Embiid would fetch only marginal talent and/or more draft picks on the trade market, which has been Philly's problem all along (they trade for things that don't win basketball games). Combine Okafor's ability to make an immediate impact at a minimal cost ($4 million per for the next four years) with Philadelphia's bottomless pit of cap space -- and the mounting pressure from the league for the Sixers to stop sucking -- and you start to see fertile soil for an Okafor trade.
The 76ers are an ideal trade partner because they have money and Jahlil Okafor is an attractive addition for just about every team in the NBA. Looking to reboot? Okafor's 20 years old. Looking to beef up interior scoring for a playoff run? Okafor's already one of the best post players in the league. Want to unload some cap space? The Sixers have room and Okafor costs virtually nothing. Need a contingency plan in case your center bolts this summer? Okafor's under contract until 2019.
I know that the idea of the Sixers trading for something other than draft picks sounds crazy, but it makes sense because they finally have something of legitimate value to work with. Up until now they've been bidding for vintage Ferrari's with dirty diapers.
GETTING BETTER MAKES IT EASIER TO GET BETTER-ER
Another reason putting Okafor on the block makes sense relates back to the Sixers' free agency prospects. The only way this team is going to improve in any meaningful way will be by luring at least one...AT LEAST ONE...top free agent, and that's not going to happen when their roster is filled with young, frustrated lottery picks like Jahlil Okafor. Unless they have a proven name signed to a longterm deal to sweeten the pot for potential suitors, free agents will continue to view the Sixers as an old, moldy, rat meat cheese steak. The prospect of trading Okafor for someone players actually want to play with makes the 76ers a vastly more enticing destination. Whoever that player is, he then gives them a seat at the negotiating table with league's top stars this summer. They haven't even been in that room for nearly a decade. They've been out in the parking lot bumming cigarettes and offering sexual favors for D-Leaguers.
With Joel Embiid's presumptive return perhaps next season and a compelling trade chip right now, one of basketball's most iconic franchises finally has a chance to turn things around. Let's hope they don't miss-fire yet again.
Questions? Concerns? Complaints? Just feel like cursing at someone over social media? Get at me on Twitter @_jakeodonnell and let's talk hoops.
Be the first to know
Want FREE Fantasy and Gaming Advice and Savings Delivered to your Inbox? Sign up for our Newsletter.