NBA trade rumors regarding members of the dismal Philadelphia 76ers are currently running wild, and their prized rookie first round selection, Jahlil Okafor, is at the center of them. While the idea of trading Okafor might sound ridiculous, it may have been in the 76ers’ plan the entire time. After the 76ers appeared in the NBA Finals in 2001, they went through years of mediocre basketball, which is the absolute worst place to be as an NBA team.
In order to get better, they decided to start tanking games in order to secure higher draft picks. While this does not guarantee the first pick in the draft because of the NBA lottery setup, it still allows for a team to obtain a higher drafting position. While the 76ers have not won the lottery over the past two seasons, they have picked third in the draft in consecutive years. This has led to them drafting big men Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. Big man Nerlens Noel was also acquired via trade on draft night in 2013.
Why the Sixers might have to trade Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel. https://t.co/mil93Mqzt5— Billy Penn (@billy_penn) January 12, 2016
After appearing in 32 games, Okafor is everything that the 76ers could have expected from their rookie. While he has his limitations defensively, he is still scoring 17.4 points per game and is very active on the boards. According to a report from the Philadelphia Inquirer, NBA executives do not believe Okafor and Noel playing together is a good fit. To make matters even more complicated, Embiid is expected back for the 2016-2017 season after missing the past two years with injuries. While Embiid has not played a second in the NBA, the rumor is that executives are certain that him and Okafor will not be a winning combination either. An unnamed executive spoke to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer about Okafor not fitting in with the current 76ers’ roster of big men.
“Everything will come down to Joel Embiid. That’s the big question. If Embiid can play, then in my opinion, they will have to trade Okafor, because Embiid and Okafor cannot play together. If Embiid can’t play, then they have to decide whether to keep both Noel and Okafor. But the combination hasn’t worked out. Or they can trade one of the two and see if they can get strength at another position because, basically right now, they have three centers. I think Noel is more of a winning player because he affects the game in a lot of areas, where Okafor really affects the game in one area: scoring”
While the experiment of playing Noel and Okafor together has been a failure so far, those around the league believe that Noel and Embiid are a better fit. Embiid may never be healthy at this point, so it could be a huge mistake if the 76ers do consider trading Okafor before they give him at least another year of playing with Noel.
According to David Aldridge of NBA.com, the 76ers originally wanted to draft Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell with the third pick in the draft, but the Lakers surprised everyone and took him ahead of Okafor. Since Okafor was considered a possible franchise player, the 76ers could not pass on him, so they took him and attempted to make it work.
While it might make sense from a basketball perspective for the 76ers’ current rebuilding plan, fans and analysts are not exactly thrilled with the prospect of trading Okafor already.
I remain hopelessly convinced Hinkie took Okafor just for trade bait. There’s no way he actually thought Okafor-Noel would work… right?— Bryan Toporek (@btoporek) January 12, 2016
trade Okafor?? what is wrong with you people?? I'd ship off Noel and Embiid before I traded Okafor.— Joe (@joemostardi) January 12, 2016
The prospect of trading Okafor may still sound unlikely, but 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie has proven that he will make unorthodox moves in hopes of getting better over the long-term. After winning the Rookie of the Year in 2014, Michael Carter-Williams was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2015. In 2013, Hinkie traded their best player in Jrue Holiday for the rights to draft Noel and a first round draft selection. In addition to those moves, Hinkie has been criticized for getting rid of NBA talent for little in return.
While he still a year away from returning, the health of Embiid could be a factor in Hinkie’s decision to go through with an Okafor trade. Even though he will not step on the floor for a live game, Embiid is showing in practice and warm-ups that he has an exceptional shot for a big man. Before he suffered a setback last year, he produced a few effortless dunks in warm-ups, which ended up going viral.
If the 76ers do not believe that Okafor fits in their future, the trade rumors of him being dealt could really come to fruition. Until those rumors become a reality, fans of the 76ers will likely see their young rookie big man continue to improve as he finishes his first NBA season.
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