Brooklyn Nets and 4 Potential Suitors for Jahlil Okafor
The 2017-18 NBA regular season isn’t even a month old, but we already have no shortage of intriguing storylines to follow. Can the Warriors win a title for the third time in four years? Is this LeBron James’ final year in Cleveland? Can the Celtics topple LeBron’s Cavs in the East? Can Daryl Morey’s mad scientist basketball revolution in Houston compete with Golden State?
Each of the league’s 30 teams has a number of unique circumstances and interesting subplots of their own. The Philadelphia 76ers have been in the midst of one of the most aggressive rebuilding jobs in the history of American professional sports for the last handful of years. They’re finally beginning to see the fruits of their tanking, with the likes of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid taking the basketball world by storm this season.
One name that has gotten lost in the shuffle in Philly is Jahlil Okafor. The former No. 2 overall draft pick, who finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting back in the 2015-16 season, has fallen out of favor in the two years since. Okafor played in just 50 games last season, most of which came whenever Joel Embiid was either resting or injured. He’s appeared in just 2 games so far this year, including a 3-minute cameo against the Jazz in early November.
Clearly, Okafor is not at all in the Sixers’ plans for the future. He’s on the books for just under $5 million this season, which is the final year of his rookie deal. Because he’ll surely leave as a free agent next summer, one would imagine the Sixers will have interest in trading the unhappy big man at some point before the trade deadline in February.
If Okafor is on the trade block, who should come calling? Okafor obviously has some flaws, notably on the defensive end, but he’s still a talented 21-year-old 7-footer. He will have at least a little bit of value on the trade market. Let’s gauge potential suitors for Jahlil Okafor.
Phoenix Suns +150
As has been the case with the 76ers in the seasons leading up to this one, the Suns are tearing everything to the ground and starting fresh. Phoenix currently has just two players on the roster aged 30 or older. One is Tyson Chandler, who will likely be dealt himself, and the other is Jared Dudley, who just keeps dad-bodding his way to NBA paychecks. Obviously, neither player has a long-term future with the Suns.
Earlier this week, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Suns have expressed interest in potentially acquiring Okafor via trade. Phoenix acquired veteran big man Greg Monroe earlier this week in a deal with the Bucks, and the Suns evidently have no use for Monroe. That means they will likely try to reroute him in another deal, which could potentially clear a roster spot for Okafor.
Phoenix has a few interesting pieces already in place with Devin Booker, Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender. Back-to-the-basket scorers may be out of vogue, but there will always be a place in the league for guys that can score efficiently near the rim. Okafor’s soft touch around the rim should keep him in the league for a while.
There’s no telling what Philly will seek in exchange for Okafor. The Sixers have been indicating that they want a first-rounder for him, but nobody will pay that price. Not even Chicago’s inept front office would take that bait. In all likelihood, teams will just wait the Sixers out. Once they lower the price to a more reasonable level, trade talk will really start to heat up.
One would imagine they will be willing to sell him off for as little as a second-round pick eventually, so it wouldn’t cost anybody much to bring him in. Okafor may be an awkward fit for the modern NBA thanks to his relative lack of athleticism and shooting range, but the Suns can offer him a blank slate with ample playing time. There’s no reason they shouldn’t take a chance on him.
Brooklyn Nets +350
Speaking of blank slates, the Brooklyn Nets are in about as tough a situation as you’ll find any NBA club at the moment. The Nets were essentially stripped of all of their lottery picks thanks to Billy King’s disastrous tenure as general manager, and new GM Sean Marks is having to find a way to make do with what he has.
While he has faced an unenviable set of circumstances in his short time in Brooklyn, Marks has actually done a wonderful job to this point. The Nets had no building blocks as recently as two years ago, but Marks has suddenly been able to cobble together a fairly talented young roster.
Marks’ master stroke to this point was acquiring D’Angelo Russell from the Lakers last summer in exchange for Brook Lopez and a first-round draft pick, which turned into Kyle Kuzma. While Kuzma looks like he’ll be a strong NBA player, Marks was able to acquire what looks like a potential franchise centerpiece in Russell.
Russell never was able to find his footing amid a tumultuous situation in Los Angeles, but he looks excellent through his first 10 games with Brooklyn. The former No. 2 overall pick is averaging better than 20 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds per game. Marks took a chance on him, and it looks like a good gamble so far.
Marks has a chance to do something similar with Okafor. Russell is the better prospect, but the Nets are clearly willing to take on anyone they can find that even has a hint of upside. The Nets are going to lose lots of games this season, but they’ll also get the chance to get a look at some interesting young players along the way.
Jarrett Allen, the Nets’ first-rounder this past year, has looked solid to this point. Considering it would cost next to nothing to pry him away from the 76ers, there’s no real reason Brooklyn shouldn’t see what Okafor can give them, too.
Frankly, we like the fit with Brooklyn better than we do with Phoenix. The Nets seem like a more stable situation these days, and Okafor could use Brooklyn’s forward-thinking coaching staff to his advantage. The Nets are a great value bet here at +350.
Chicago Bulls +400
While the Suns and Nets may struggle to win 20 games this season, the Bulls may be worse than both. With the trade of Jimmy Butler and the buyout of Dwyane Wade, Chicago is clearly playing with an eye on the future rather than the present. With no player older than 29 and no star currently on the roster, it’s going to be a long season in the Windy City.
Because they really have nothing going on this season, it makes sense that the Bulls would consider acquiring someone like Okafor. Honestly, there’s just no reason they shouldn’t at this point. Okafor would step in and instantly become the most intriguing prospect on the roster not named Lauri Markkanen.
If Okafor does come to Chicago, it only makes sense to suggest that the Bulls would subsequently find a new home for Robin Lopez, who is currently entrenched as the starting center. Lopez should have no shortage of suitors thanks to his defensive and rebounding prowess, so the Bulls might even have the chance to make up what they lost when trading for Okafor.
Chicago may not be as likely a destination as Brooklyn or Phoenix, but they’re a sneaky candidate to watch.
Atlanta Hawks +500
The Hawks are essentially in the same boat as the rest of these clubs. They got rid of their key veterans from last season (Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, Thabo Sefolosha, Tim Hardaway Jr.), and now appear headed toward a full-scale rebuild.
There really isn’t much more to be said than has already been said. Okafor is an appealing young talent that will likely be acquired at a fraction of what he would have originally cost in a trade. The Hawks don’t have much to offer back to Philly other than draft assets, but that should be more than enough to get a deal done.
The Hawks have a few intriguing young players (John Collins, most notably), but it’s going to be a while until we see them back among the truly elite teams in the Eastern Conference. They can afford to give Okafor all the minutes he can handle with the hopes that he will eventually deliver on that massive potential.
We’ll rank Okafor’s most likely destinations as follows, though all four of these teams are clearly viable suitors.
- Brooklyn Nets +375
- Phoenix Suns +150
- Atlanta Hawks +500
- Chicago Bulls +400