Shout it from the top of the Rocky statue, scream it from the roof of Cameron Indoor Stadium: Jahlil Okafor is finally free.
The Sixers big man will reportedly be traded to the Brooklyn Nets for power forward Trevor Booker, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe. The Nets will also receive Nik Stauskas and a second-round pick.
For Philly, getting rid of Okafor—whose trade market over the last few seasons had shrunk like Matt Damon in Downsizing—was always going to come at a disappointing cost. The Sixers effectively had to surrender a pick just to get rid of Okafor and Stauskas, both of whom weren’t getting significant playing time.
Sam Hinkie isn’t walking through that door, but Nets GM Sean Marks has taken up the mantle as the most notable assets-hoarder in the league. Marks capitalized on an opportunity to squeeze the Sixers, preying on their desire to get rid of Okafor. The result: two more assets in the bag and a chance at seeing what Kenny Atkinson can do with a below-the-rim center like Okafor, who badly needed a change of scenery.
As the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, Okafor was touted for his polished offensive repertoire coming out of Duke but quickly saw the league evolve past him, which turned his top-notch post game into a relic. He was put on the block, but there weren’t any takers. Few teams were in search of a back-to-the-basket center, and with Joel Embiid’s futuristic talent next to him, the optics certainly weren’t great either. Okafor averaged 30 minutes a game in his rookie season. This season, despite going vegan and losing 20 pounds in the offseason, he was averaging just 12.5 minutes and holding onto hope that he would play more.
“Anything can change,” Okafor said in October. “It can change at the blink of an eye. Right now, I’m not in the rotation and that’s what it is.”
On the Nets, Okafor will get a shot to change his narrative. It’s not that there’s no room for a big man of his ilk in the NBA, and the stakes in Brooklyn are low: there’s youth everywhere and a priority on development, not necessarily winning. It’s a perfect environment for Okafor, who is still just 21.
Meanwhile, in Philly, the time to win and make the playoffs is now. The Sixers can’t afford empty roster spots, and Booker will certainly bring more to the table than Okafor did. The seven-year veteran big will be excellent in the pick-and-roll playing with the Sixers’ creators and provide some scoring off the bench—especially inside 10 feet, where he’s taking nearly 90 percent of his field goals. Booker gives the Sixers some lineup flexibility, and it will only come at the expense of some minutes from his 30-year-old counterpart Amir Johnson.
The Sixers’ future grows brighter with every Ben Simmons pass and every Joel Embiid performance, but Okafor was a misstep the Process will never forget. For those who believed in Hinkie’s plan, Okafor’s departure has been a long time coming. It may have cost a pick, but at least the saga is finally over.