The Philadelphia 76ers declined their team option for big man Jahlil Okafor, which means he will become a free agent at the end of the year.
Earlier today, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that “he could still be moved this season” as the team had been actively pursuing potential trade options. Okafor reportedly believes the team has received “workable trades” for him. But no deal has been made, as Okafor remains on the roster.
Marc Stein of the New York Times reports Okafor could ask for a buyout from his contract, which would end his tenure with the team that selected him at No. 3 overall just two seasons ago.
Okafor is no longer in the rotation for Philadelphia and will likely want to play for a team offering more of a role.
USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt reports that Okafor’s agent Bill Duffy has a “great relationship” with team general manager Bryan Colangelo. But a buyout could still be in the works to avoid further complications between both parties.
NBA analyst Zach Harper recently wrote about what a franchise may get if they sign Okafor (via Fanrag Sports):
“A lot of comparisons to Al Jefferson and Okafor have been made since he entered the NBA. Jefferson turned out to be a pretty good player and can even be quite useful in today’s NBA off the bench. Is ‘bench version of 32-year-old Al Jefferson’ going to get anybody excited about Okafor as a prospect? Of course not. Okafor came into training camp roughly 20 pounds lighter than last season. He doesn’t want to get much lighter than he is and will probably put on a bit of weight in the regular season. But that weight loss should lessen the impact his right knee is suffering when he moves.”
This offseason, Okafor lost significant weight and is reportedly in great shape after hard work in the summer. While expectations may need to be tempered, other teams will likely take a shot on him if he is on the market.
Okafor is originally from Chicago, and the Bulls have available cap space and playing time to offer the 21-year-old big man. Their frontcourt seems to have a good fit with Lauri Markannen at power forward. Okafor would likely be the center of the future if Robin Lopez leaves via free agency when his contract expires.
San Antonio Spurs
Many believe Okafor would thrive “in the right situation” and few (if any) places in the league would be better than under head coach Gregg Popovich. If the Spurs took a flier on him, it could be the exact motivation and system he needs to succeed.
According to recent reports, the Celtics “are long believed to have liked” Okafor. He would be able to sign with the team due to the designated player exception they received after the recent injury to Gordon Hayward, who was signed during the offseason.
Semi Ojeleye, who played with him at Duke, is already on the roster for Boston.
The Cavaliers would be able to claim Okafor due to the trade exception they received when Kyrie Irving signed with the Celtics. In Cleveland, he would play alongside fellow Chicago-born players like Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade.
If he is no longer on the Sixers, expect him to find a suitable home. Okafor is still just 21 and while he has not performed as well as many would have hoped within the Philadelphia organization, it’s easy to imagine a team like the Nets, Suns or Hawks willing to take a gamble on a young big man.
Some other former Duke teammates include Justise Winslow (Heat), Tyus Jones (Timberwolves) and Quinn Cook (Warriors) – all of whom have established chemistry with him as NCAA national champions.