The Philadelphia 76ers are back in the NBA trade rumors circulating online and Jahlil Okafor is once again at the forefront. Previous speculation about a potential Okafor trade was just that, but now the team’s head coach is actually talking about one. As the Sixers team looks towards what could be an exciting season and future for the franchise thanks to several young stars, it appears Okafor may no longer be a part of that picture. However, with the team looking at what their options are for building their roster, Okafor still could get some time as part of the Philadelphia rotation.
On Wednesday, Mass Live‘s Tom Westerholm reported that Sixers beat writer Keith Pompey tweeted about the situation with Okafor. Pompey indicated that head coach Brett Brown said the organization will “check with the rest of the league” so that they can see what’s available for their big man. The news arrives as the team prepares to debut two of their newest young stars on the court this coming season with back-to-back No. 1 draft picks Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz both looking like they should be available. There’s also big man Joel Embiid who figures to be a future star in the league if he can stay healthy.
In Brett Brown’s full response to Pompey asking about the situation with Okafor, Brown discussed his plan in terms of coaching Okafor for the coming season.
“Bryan’s going to do his job,” coach Brett Brown said of team president Bryan Colangelo, who is looking for a trade partner. “I’m going to coach him, and we are going to see what goes on with the rest of the league in relation to whatever else is out there.
“But I’m coaching him like he’s mine.”
Okafor played in just 50 games last season, but averaged 11.8 points, nearly five rebounds, and a block in the nearly 23 minutes he played per game. At 6-foot-11 and healthy he is a valuable asset for many teams out there who might find a way to incorporate the big man into a team that is already contending. He could also flourish in a situation with other young stars, but it probably won’t be Philadelphia for the entire season. A lot of it may be due to the question mark about fellow big man Joel Embiid and his status.
It’s a big question mark for the Philadelphia Sixers right now, based on how limited Embiid has been through his career. As ESPN recently reported, the team is proceeding with caution with their big man. Embiid has yet to get full clearance to participate in any 5-on-5 basketball work with the team. He’s still been working on his game as well as strength and conditioning, according to the report. However, the team is making sure he doesn’t suffer any unnecessary setbacks before being able to get back on the court for the regular season. That could give the team a strong reason to keep Okafor on their roster, for the time being, until they’re sure they have their preferred big man healthy and available to play.
Embiid only participated in 31 games last season and while he was looking like a potential All-Star and NBA Rookie of the Year frontrunner, his season was shortened due to a knee injury. He’s still considered one of the future big men and possible stars of the league, based on what he showed in his limited season this past year. Caution makes sense for the Sixers, though, as Embiid’s situation seems to almost mirror that of another former top draft pick who suffered injury issues before he could really make any sort of mark on the league.
Back in 2007, Ohio State’s Greg Oden was the top pick for Portland, and the 7-foot star was looking like he could become the next big man in the NBA. However, he missed his entire first season due to having microfracture surgery on his knee. He actually was able to participate in 61 games in Portland during the 2008-09 season, but just 21 in the following season. He’d eventually find himself waived by Portland and try for a comeback with the Miami Heat. Oden played in just 23 games there, and it was all due to the limitation of unfortunate injuries. He announced his retirement from the NBA just last year and had the good fortune of being a part of the Miami championship-winning squad.
All of that said, the Philadelphia Sixers have good reason to be cautious with Joel Embiid as he continues to progress after his surgery. It’s being said he is getting into much better shape, but head coach Brett Brown indicated he couldn’t give a timetable for Embiid’s return to 5-on-5 work. So it won’t be surprising if Philadelphia keeps Okafor around as their two newest stars progress for their early games of this season. Still, an NBA trade for another big man could also make sense if the team finds an option they like and believes that player fits in better with their plans for the future. Stay tuned as Jahlil Okafor could become the top name mentioned in trade rumors for weeks to come.
[Featured Image by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images]