Sixers Should Buy Out Jahlil Okafor
The Sixers are in the midst of an extremely exciting season, as several years of rebuilding are finally starting to pay dividends on the court. Quality of play is up. Attendance is up. Excitement is up.
While most of the vibes emanating from the franchise at this point in time are positive, there remains a cloud hanging over the organization – the Jahlil Okafor situation.
Despite the facts that they didn't pick up his contract option for next season and that he is completely out of the team's current rotation, the Sixers continue to deny Okafor's repeated requests for a contract buyout as they continue to seek an asset in exchange for the former lottery pick via trade.
"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," Sixers General Manager Bryan Colangelo said recently, via ESPN. "I continue to explore opportunities with both Jahlil and [agent] Bill Duffy to find a more suitable spot for him."
Colangelo is operating with the Sixers best interest in mind, but by not yet trading him, playing him, or giving him the buyout that would allow him to play elsewhere, the Sixers are basically holding Okafor hostage and other player’s across the league’s landscape are taking note of the situation.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas took to Twitter in early November to express some support for Okafor.
"Man they acting like Jahlil Okafor don’t got game," Thomas Tweeted. "Let the man go and rock out for somebody else! Crazy how they doing him."
Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley agreed with Thomas, and implied that other players across the league may be taking note of how the Sixers have treated Okafor, who has handled the situation in a very professional manner.
"NBA players always recognized how organizations take care of their employees," Dudley said, via Twitter. "Esp when [sic] their professional."
Suns guard Devin Booker also recently Tweeted support for Okafor.
"FREE JAH," he wrote.
While the Sixers continue to search for a landing spot for Okafor, the former lottery pick just wants an opportunity.
"I would like for them to just send me somewhere where I can get an opportunity," Okafor said, via 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."
Selected after fellow frontcourt players in Nerlens Noel (2013), and Joel Embiid (2014), Okafor was never a great fit in Philly, and a combination of a limited skill set, poor play and lack of opportunity led to the former Duke Blue Devil being out of the Sixers' rotation heading into the '17-18 season.
The fact that Okafor didn't pan out as a Sixer is fine - not every pick is going to be a hit, and the team appears headed for high heights without him - but to deny him of a buyout when he clearly has no future with the franchise isn’t ideal optically. Additionally, holding out hope that Okafor's market value improves while simultaneously benching him doesn't seem to make much sense.
Okafor's agent, Bill Duffy – who represents dozens of NBA players - has been pushing for a buyout for his client.
"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."
Duffy is correct in his assessment of the market. With Okafor’s contract set to expire after the season, no team is going to give up anything of value knowing that they run the risk of losing him after the season if they do, and also knowing that they will likely be able to land him on the open market over the offseason without giving up anything. The fact that Okafor is viewed as redemption project rather than a guaranteed contributor after a couple rough seasons in Philadelphia doesn’t help his market value either.
At this point, the Sixers should cut their losses and allow a clearly unhappy Okafor to recharge his career elsewhere before other players start to wonder about the franchise's treatment of their players. For a team that will be looking to attract some big-time free agents in the coming years, this isn't a great look.
It is clear that the Sixers aren't going to get anything substantial in return for Okafor at this point, and they are going to lose him for nothing in the offseason anyway. It is not worth potentially souring the relationship with a prominent agent, and having free agents question how the team treats players to try to squeeze a second round pick out of Okafor.
It's time for the Sixers to free Jah.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.