Rarely are top-three picks traded two seasons into a career. It just doesn’t happen. Jahlil Okafor will be traded today or tomorrow or some day soon it appears. The likely destination seems to be New Orleans, and the return doesn’t fit Okafor’s value just 18 months ago. But lots of things changed over that time period. And that’s where the 76ers find themselves. Okafor and Michael Carter-Williams were the only first-round rookies Sam Hinkie drafted who actually played their rookie seasons, and they are both gone just like the guy who drafted them.
Fans won’t remember Okafor too kindly, and it’s not his fault. The situation should have been avoided if the Lakers just drafted Okafor second overall. But the Golden State Warriors winning the title playing small ball really impacted the NBA landscape, forcing teams to abandon back-to-the-basket big guys who couldn’t do much else. Timing is everything, and Okafor appears a few years late to make the type of impact needed from such a high draft pick. It’s silly to throw away the idea that Okafor will not or cannot be a vital piece to a championship contender. Okafor has some serious offensive skill, and most big men are lousy defenders at a young age. It’s concerning Okafor still struggles mightily at that end, sometimes looking disinterested, but he usually brings it on offense, and he’s handled his benching with class. He’s grown up a great deal since his rookie season’s debacle (speeding ticket and fight outside a Boston nightclub), and that has to be worth something.
Okafor did not choose Philadelphia. He wasn’t a free agent. He provided some necessary excitement last season on the offensive end, and even if it didn’t translate directly into wins, he had a first-team All-Rookie type season. Drafting Okafor never made sense. Playing Okafor and Nerlens Noel together never mad sense. Last year’s 10-win team was the worst 76er team in a very long time, and arguably ever. Okafor’s legacy in Philadelphia won’t be much of anything. People will scoff at his time here, but it’s really not his fault. Sure, he could have played better, but here’s a guy whose best skills are nearly outdated, and he had not one or two but three players (Noel, Joel Embiid and Richaun Holmes) who seemingly fit better in today’s NBA. He was set up to fail, and now Philadelphia will be lucky to get a lottery-protected 2018 pick from the Pelicans.
Photo credit to USA Today’s Bill Streicher