In his two-plus seasons with Philadelphia, Jahlil Okafor never settled into a long-term role with the 76ers. After making the NBA All-Rookie first team, Okafor's role was reduced in his second season. This year, he fell completely out of the team's rotation, appearing in just two games and playing a total of 25 minutes.
The writing was on the wall when the Sixers declined to pick-up the team option on the fourth year of his rookie contract at the end of October. In November against the Warriors, Okafor's father Chucky wore a "Free Jah" T-shirt to a Sixers home game.
On Thursday, the 76ers finally parted ways with Okafor, sending the third overall pick in the 2015 draft -- along with Nik Stauskas and a 2019 second-round pick -- to the Nets in exchange for Trevor Booker. The Nets will waive guard Sean Kilpatrick to make room for their new acquisitions.
Here are three takeaways from the trade:
The Okafor-Philadelphia partnership was doomed from the start.
Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie has been lauded for his tanking process in Philadelphia that landed the Sixers two franchise cornerstones in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and a potential third in 2017 first overall pick Markelle Fultz.
But the process wasn't a one-way joy ride from mediocrity to contention. Along the way, the Sixers whiffed on several lottery selections, including Nerlens Noel and Okafor, neither of whom fit in next to Embiid, which created a frontcourt logjam that replacement general manager Bryan Colangelo had to clear up.
The Sixers traded Noel to the Mavericks at the trade deadline last season in exchange for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a protected first-round pick. Add in the acquisition of Booker in exchange for Okafor, and the Sixers didn't get much of a return for two of their lottery picks from the process.
Many will point out the Sixers missed out on selecting Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 draft (he went one pick after Okafor), but Okafor wasn't a complete bust in his two-plus seasons in the league. The 21-year-old center averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds on 50.8 percent shooting in his rookie season, but he watched his minutes dwindle last year when Embiid finally returned from a two-year absence due to injury. This season, Okafor appeared in just two of Philadelphia's first 23 games.
There are reasons why the Sixers deemed Okafor unplayable. Philadelphia was an abject disaster on the defensive end when he was on the floor. Per NBA.com, during Okafor's rookie season, the Sixers allowed 108.7 points per 100 possessions and had a -16.6 net rating when he was on the floor. The short-lived experiment of pairing Embiid and Okafor together last season, which lasted all of 80 minutes, produced a -21.5 net rating when the two big men shared the floor. The Sixers allowed 117.3 points per 100 possessions during those 80 minutes.
Philadelphia is past the rebuilding phase now. After an 0-3 start to the season, the Sixers are 13-11 and have a realistic shot at a top-four seed in the East. Adding Booker continues Colangelo's trend of surrounding his young stars with depth, which started this offseason with the signings of J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson. After finally moving on from Okafor, Philadelphia can now focus on returning to the postseason for the first time since 2012.
The Nets continue to accumulate reclamation projects for their long-term rebuild.
The Nets mortgaged a significant part of their future by parting with multiple first-round draft picks to the Celtics in exchange for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013. The franchise has been playing catch-up since.
Under general manager Sean Marks, the Nets have been aggressive in the trade market. This offseason, the Nets absorbed the remainder of Timofey Mozgov's four-year, $64-million contract from the Lakers to acquire 21-year-old guard D'Angelo Russell. They also nabbed Allen Crabbe, a player they had signed to an offer sheet last summer, from the Blazers in a separate trade. The Okafor deal follows a similar pattern. The Nets didn't give up much and now get a chance to see if they can rebuild Okafor's value.
With Russell and Okafor, the Nets now have the second and third overall picks from the 2015 draft on their roster. You may have to squint, but there is finally light at the end of the tunnel in Brooklyn. With Russell and Okafor (both 21 years mold), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (22), Caris LeVert (23) and Crabbe (25), Marks has accumulated enough young talent given his constraints with the lack of draft picks that the Nets can at least hope that one or two of these players can reach their potential and give them players to build around when the Nets are ready to be competitive again.
It's a small step, but in 2019, the Nets will finally have their own first-round pick for the first time since 2013. By then, Brooklyn should know whether it has the core players to build around or it needs to extend the rebuilding process and try to land a franchise player in the draft. The Nets are still a few years away from being a few years away, but Marks finally has the team trending in the right direction.
Okafor will have a chance to rebuild his value in Brooklyn.
Okafor's value could not be any lower than it is right now. But we shouldn't forget that he was once the No. 1 prospect in the country before his freshman season at Duke, where he averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds -- similar to the numbers he put up during his rookie season in Philadelphia -- and finished as the ACC player of the year.
The Sixers declined to pick up the fourth-year option on Okafor's rookie contract earlier this season, which means the 21-year-old center will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Nets are 9-14, and with starting point guard Jeremy Lin out for the season after suffering a patellar tendon rupture on opening night and Russell having missed the last 10 games after arthroscopic knee surgery, the rest of this season will be about player evaluation for Brooklyn.
How Okafor fits with the Nets remains to be seen. Head coach Kenny Atkinson has preached a fast-pace offense built around 3-point shooting and floor spacing since taking over the job in Brooklyn. Per NBA.com, the Nets are second in the league in 3-point attempts per game, behind only the Rockets, who are launching threes at a historic clip. They're also third in the league in pace, averaging almost 105 possessions per game.
To take advantage of Okafor on the offensive end, Atkinson will need to slow the game down and give him low-post touches. Theoretically, having an offensive threat like Okafor in the paint can open up space for shooters. Of course, there's also the matter of whether the Nets can be a league-average defensive team with Okafor on the interior. But that's the thing with reclamation projects. There's a reason why they're available, and there will always be an issue of fit.
Brooklyn is in a position to give Okafor the minutes he needs to fully evaluate whether he can be a starter or rotation player in this league (Okafor also no longer has to take extended train rides from Philadelphia to New York to watch movies). For the price of a role player in Booker, the Nets are giving themselves an extended look at Okafor and can decide this summer if they want to move ahead with him as part of their future.
There might not be room in the modern day NBA for a center like Okafor, who lacks secondary offensive skills outside of his back-to-the-basket game and doesn't impact the game on the boards or on defense. He's a one-dimensional player at the moment, but we haven't seen Okafor regularly on the floor since his rookie season. Now, he'll have every opportunity in Brooklyn to prove that he deserves regular minutes on an NBA team.