By Sam Bush
The Sixers are now the second-hottest team in town, and the whole region seems ga-ga about how the Process has produced such an exciting young team.
But Jahlil Okafor, the team’s No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft, wants out:
“I would like for them to just send me somewhere where I can get an opportunity,” Okafor told ESPN. “I’ve done everything they’ve asked of me and I would just like to get an opportunity to play with a trade or a buyout. I just hope something happens quickly.
“This is my third year in the NBA, and I know it’s a business. I don’t know if it’s fair or not, but in talking to other people in the NBA, talking to retired players, one thing I’ve heard them say is that what’s going on with me isn’t right and they’ve never seen anything like this before.
“I know it’s business, but in my eyes, I don’t know if it’s good business.”
A year ago, Okafor’s knee surgery ended his season. This season, Okafor returned 20 pounds lighter, fitter and far more deft on his feet.
Colangelo’s asking price has steadily dropped for Okafor, from two first-round picks to a first and a solid player to where it stands now, a second-round pick, league sources said. As for the politics of giving up on the No. 3 overall pick, remember: Colangelo didn’t select Okafor over Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 draft — his predecessor, Sam Hinkie, did.
“We appreciate the effort that [Okafor] has put forth, and other than a little frustration expressed recently, he’s been patient waiting for an opportunity to play,” Colangelo told ESPN. “I continue to explore opportunities with both Jahlil and [agent] Bill Duffy to find a more suitable spot for him.”
More than half of the NBA’s teams suggested to ESPN that they would have an interest in acquiring Okafor as a long-term project. But none seem inclined to give up a draft asset to do so.
In the end, the question becomes: At what price does Colangelo cost himself and the franchise by failing to make the goodwill gesture of letting Okafor go for nothing? Duffy is one of the NBA’s most prominent agents and has a strong working history with Colangelo. One of Duffy’s clients, Steve Nash, changed the course of Colangelo’s front-office career when he left Dallas to sign a free agent deal with the Phoenix Suns in 2004.
“I’m hopeful that Bryan will do what has always brought him and the players in his organization success and be flexible as Jahlil has handled himself the right way,” Duffy told ESPN. “There’s been a focus on trading Jah for the past nine months, but nothing has come to fruition. At this point, it’s time to exercise that flexibility because I don’t think anything in the marketplace is going to change. His contract is still going to expire in June, and teams are still going to hold onto their assets.
“We are simply requesting the organization be willing to proceed reasonably and allow Jah to get on with his career,” Duffy said. “The Sixers are positioned well for the present and the future, and we only want the same for Jahlil.”
For now, Colangelo continues to make trade calls, Duffy continues to push for the buyout and Jahlil Okafor sits on the Sixers bench. He turns 22 years old in December.
“This really sucks,” Okafor told ESPN. “I want to play ball.”