Storyline: Jahlil Okafor Trade?

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76ers coach Brett Brown and Jahlil Okafor talked away from teammates and media in center-court floor seats opposite the scorers’ table at the Golden 1 Center following Thursday’s shootaround. It was one of many conversations the coach has had with the seldom-used center the team is trying to trade. “I have … respect [for] how he handles his situation,” Brown said. “So, you are just always communicating with him. You are telling him your thoughts and … at the end of the day, help[ing] Jahlil.”

The Celtics have long held interest in Jahlil Okafor, but as more of a project than an immediate contributor. Boston is also not willing to part with a first-round pick for Okafor. The 76ers have done a poor job of showcasing Okafor and maintaining his market value. He has played just one game this season, scoring 10 points in 22 minutes in a blowout loss to Toronto on Oct. 21. Okafor has gotten into premium shape and has the ability to run the floor, but he hasn’t attempted a 3-pointer since his rookie season. The question for interested teams is whether Okafor can serve as a consistent post presence. There are plenty of teams willing to give a 21-year-old former top prospect an opportunity. But the 76ers aren’t giving him away for free.

The reserve center told team president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo on Tuesday that he wanted to be bought out of his contract. That came after the Sixers declined to pick up Okafor’s contract for the 2018-19 season. The Sixers, however, appear unwilling to let the 21-year-old center, who has played only one game this season, just walk out the door. “Bryan didn’t think [a buyout] would be a great idea,” Okafor said, “because he said he would be giving me away to a team for free. But that’s pretty much where we stand right now.”

“I tried to do everything the right way,” Okafor said. “I tried to be professional; I will continue to be professional. But at some point, I have to defend myself, and this is my career. I’m not sure if [Colangelo] cares about that. I think that’s evident at this point.” Okafor said he understands that this a business and that Colangelo has to do what’s best for the organization. “But at some point, as people, on a personal level, you would hope, let’s get Jah out of here,” Okafor said. “Let him go play somewhere because I’m 21. I’m healthy. I’m trying to get on the right path of my career.”

Celtics still interested in Jahlil Okafor?

The Celtics have long had an interest in Okafor because of his post skills, and they are in need of a big man. The question is whether the Celtics would deal any of their younger players (likely no) or draft picks for Okafor. The Celtics already have dealt with the 76ers this summer, swapping draft picks and getting a future first-rounder for the third overall pick [Jayson Tatum]. Philadelphia selected Markelle Fultz first overall.

Jahlil Okafor’s days as a 76er have been numbered since his rookie season, so it’s not surprising that the Sixers talk openly about their intent to resume trade decisions involving the third-year veteran. “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.”

With that in mind and coming off of a frustrating second pro campaign, Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft, admitted he has thought about the possibility of being in another city. “I have,” Okafor said. “I hear trade rumors and stuff like that. I realize that having a new scenario, you think it might be better than it is right now. But when it comes to the NBA, all I know is wearing a Sixers uniform. … I couldn’t be happier.” Okafor credited his teammates and Brown for helping him get through a difficult 2016-17 season. “Without them, I might have lost my mind,” he said.

Appearing on NBA TV Tuesday night, NBA.com’s David Aldridge said Okafor “will get moved by Thursday.” Aldridge, who said the Sixers have “a lot of offers to sift through,” mentioned the Pacers and Kings as potential landing spots. Following the DeMarcus Cousins trade, Sacramento is left with Kosta Koufos and Willie Cauley-Stein, who aren’t offensive bigs. Koufos is averaging 6.1 points in 57 games this season, while Cauley-Stein is scoring 5.8 per game in his second NBA season. “[The Kings] can offer more minutes and more opportunities for [Okafor] now,” Aldridge said.

The Feb. 23 trade deadline is a just over week away, and the Sixers still could find a partner for Okafor if one makes sense for both player and team. On Monday, Brown said Okafor would be embraced by the Sixers if a trade does not transpire. “He’ll come back in and he will be welcomed with open arms with teammates that like him and respect him,” Brown said. “They are friends. He’ll come back into a coaching staff that likes him and respects him because we care for him. He still is ours until somebody tells us he isn’t.”

Okafor didn’t play for a second consecutive game because the Sixers were engaged in trade talks involving the second-year center. He didn’t make the trip to Charlotte with the team to face the Hornets. “Jahlil Okafor’s situation is transparent,” Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters at the morning shootaround in Charlotte. “He’s in the middle of being discussed in trade scenarios and so I felt that it complicates things to play him. Now this is continuing on and that’s the reason he isn’t here.”
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