Jahlil Okafor was there in the beginning when the foundation was laid for a younger, more improved Philadelphia 76ers team. He was expected to play an important role in the Renaissance project known as “The Process,” but those expectations eroded over time and he became an obvious misfit.
Two years after being drafted third, Okafor was traded on Thursday to the Brooklyn Nets, along with shooting guard Nick Stauskas and a 2019 second-round draft pick, for veteran forward Trevor Booker. It was a stunning deal on multiple fronts, even though it has been well-known in the last month that the center was positioning himself for a trade.
Okafor’s decision comes in the final year of his contract after the Sixers declined to pick up his fourth-year option. When speaking with ESPN’s Nick Metallinos in November, he admitted he was fine with the team passing on his contract extension. His goal was to put himself in a situation where he had an opportunity to help a team.
It’s hard to do that playing in only two games and averaging 12.5 minutes.
“Honestly, I did not want them to pick up my option,” said Okafor. “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. I want the team to do great things, but at the same time I want to play… When I first got here, we weren’t the best team. It was just Nerlens and I. Joel wasn’t healthy, so I was on the court. I was playing so I didn’t really have any complaints. That’s all I wanted to do was just play.”
Okafor should have plenty of chances to play for a Nets team aiming to rebuild with young talent. There is still tremendous upside within the 21-year-old star, and he could finally reach his ceiling playing alongside and growing with the man drafted ahead of him, D’Angelo Russell.
The Sixers were obviously comfortable in the direction they were headed with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons leading the team, and Okafor was simply the odd man out. It’ll be fun to revisit this trade down the road when tracking Okafor’s career. He was averaging 17.5 points and seven rebounds as a rookie before slowly being cut out of the Sixers’ plans.
He’ll now have an opportunity to forge his own process with a team that has quietly made strong personnel moves to better position itself for the future.
Now the Nets will have a viable big man to lead the way.