Jahlil Okafor has appeared in just one game this season for the Philadelphia 76ers. It was the only game the team has had to this point that was the second of a back-to-back. As such, budding superstar Joel Embiid did not play. That, in combination with the 76ers back up center Richaun Holmes being unavailable due to injury, forced Okafor into the lineup in that game.
Last week, Philadelphia announced that they would not be picking up the fourth year option on Okafor’s rookie contract, and news since then has been pretty consistent that he would like to be traded or bought out in order to move on with his career. This is a complicated situation, given that any team that might trade for him would not be able to offer him a contract for the 2018-19 season for more than the $6.3 million option the 76ers declined.
In this morning’s version of the David Aldridge’s Monday Morning Tip, he cites leagues sources as suggesting that Hawks and the Bulls as the most likely destinations for the Philadelphia big man. While Aldridge does not suggest whether a trade or a buyout is the most likely route to one of those destinations, he does allude to the fact that 76ers have plenty of motivation to wait for a draft asset to be offered as opposed to moving straight into buyout negotiations.
Aldridge notes the “Sixers are still holding out for at least a Draft pick, and could still opt to keep Okafor either as insurance against further injury to Embiid, or as a potential expiring contract to aggregate as the trade deadline nears.”
Okafor was taken with the third overall selection in the 2015 NBA draft behind Karl Anthony-Towns and D’Angelo Russell. He averaged an impressive 17.5 points per game as a rookie playing for a terrible 76ers squad and was awarded first-team All-Rookie honors at the end of that season.
Since his rookie campaign, his playing time and his reputation as a prospect in the league have slipped tremendously. Okafor still possesses an intriguing offensive skill set for a player of his size, but doubt surrounds his play on the defensive end of the court and questions persist as to whether he can do much more on offense than operate in the nearly-extinct low post scorer role.
The Hawks own all of their own second-round draft picks for the foreseeable future as well as an extra second-rounder courtesy of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Hawks own picks in the coming years might be projected to be in the 40s and possibly too valuable of an asset to move for Okafor, but Atlanta can get creative on protections to ensure that they’re not giving up too much for a player that has almost no value on the market.
There is no reason for the Hawks to move quickly on the possibility of acquiring the 21-year-old former Duke star, but at the right price, it would not be too surprising to see them in the mix as a team that might have some interest in seeing how they might be able to help him develop as a still young player.
It’s hard to see many paths that lead to Okafor being offered a contract for next season north of $6 million and if that’s the case, the team which acquires him could have the better part of two NBA seasons to see what kind of player he might be able to become in their environment.