Now that Jahlil Okafor has finally found a new team he might actually play for, it’s time to admit that the Sixers did him wrong.
From the moment the Philadelphia 76ers drafted him in 2015, I felt sorry for center Jahlil Okafor.
The poor guy just wanted to play basketball and Okafor ends up in a situation where he will be fighting for minutes from the get go. On almost any other team he would have been a starter and could have developed his skills and improved. Instead he becomes part of a logjam at the center position and spends more time injured and on the bench than playing.
It’s easy to forget now, but when former GM Sam Hinkie drafted Okafor with the third overall pick, he was essentially drafting a “Plan C” for a Sixers roster that had all their hopes pinned on Joel Embiid.
Embiid was dealing with yet more foot issues when the draft took place and would end up missing the entire 2015-16 season. There were still lingering questions about his longterm viability and if he was the player the Sixers could build their future around. The team already had a “Plan B” in the form of center Nerlens Noel, but Noel could also play some forward so it gave head coach Brett Brown a few more options when deciding on a starting five.
However, in Okafor the Sixers had drafted a true center who could score at will but whose defensive capabilities were nonexistent. The pick was the epitome of the “best available” mindset of drafting that more times than not comes back and bites a team in the ass.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Once Embiid proved that he was indeed the player everyone thought he was, both Noel and Okafor slid down the depth chart, with Okafor riding the bench pretty much full-time. Once the Sixers traded Noel to the Dallas Mavericks in February of this year, things didn’t improve much. Richaun Holmes came out of nowhere and claimed the backup center position, leaving precious few minutes for Okafor. He ended up averaging just 22.7 minutes in 50 games last year, mostly due to Embiid’s season ending early thanks to a meniscus tear.
The final insult came in November when the Sixers announced they would not be picking up the fourth-year option on Okafor’s contract.
The 21-year-old had essentially seen the first three years of his pro career go nowhere and despite that had played the good soldier for Philly, saying and doing all the right things. Yet GM Bryan Colangelo and the Sixers wouldn’t even buy out his contract and let him sign elsewhere. No, they had to get something in return, which turned out to be 30-year-old forward Trevor Booker in a deal with the Brooklyn Nets.
So instead of doing the right thing and buying Okafor out so he could sign with a team that might do something this season, they banish him to Brooklyn, a team with more issues than most people can count and are perpetually rebuilding.
That is a shitty thing to do to a guy who did nothing but whatever was asked of him and was a victim of being the best available when it came time for the Sixers to make a pick.
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No, Jahlil Okafor might never be as good a player as analysts thought when he was going to be when he declared for the NBA Draft, but he still has a lot of skills that can help any number of teams. The Sixers should have realized they weren’t one of them a year ago and bought him out instead of wasting his time.
It would have been the right thing to do, something the current Sixers front office is gaining a reputation of not doing.