It's only a matter of time until the Sixers trade one of their big men. The roster is left with a glut of young centers as the franchise enters the post-process era, a transition that will be geared more toward team-building than asset-accumulation, and moving one could net the piece or pieces necessary to take the next step.
Meanwhile, there seems to be significant interest in 2015 lottery pick Jahlil Okafor, particularly from the Boston Celtics' camp. The Sixers' Atlantic Division rivals were said to be looking into acquiring Okafor at this past season's trade deadline, and those who cover the club are suggesting they would even be willing to deal the third-overall choice in this year's draft.
Okafor averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds over 53 games in 2015-16 and finished fifth in NBA Rookie of the Year voting, though his campaign was ended early due to a small tear of his meniscus. Still, assuming he can overcome the injury, Okafor flashed the offensive prowess that led many scouts to believe he could've gone number one. Now the Sixers might send him packing?
It's not as crazy as it might sound. Well, maybe it is, but at least we can rationalize it for the right return. There are no fewer than five good reasons to consider trading Okafor, and while certainly not everybody will be in agreement, you can understand the thought process behind the rumors.
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Okafor and Nerlens Noel don't work well together already. Throw Joel Embiid into the mix, provided he's healthy and playing, and the Sixers have a real cluster in their frontcourt. Sooner or later, somebody has to go.
Can any of the three play together? It's a fair question, but the Okafor-Noel combo was an objective failure, and while it's only been one year, the two of them simply don't appear to complement one another. It's also difficult to envision an Okafor-Embiid pairing being any better, as the two play somewhat similar styles and take up roughly the same area on the court, which would mean we've all but ruled out their coexistence.
Unless the Sixers intend to move both Noel and Embiid and build around Okafor, it's unclear how the pieces are supposed to fit. Perhaps that is what's best for the Sixers, but it's not easy to say with another potential transcendent talent set to make his debut.
If the choice were between building with Embiid or Okafor, in a perfect world, you take Embiid every time. Both are exceptional prospects, but Embiid was supposed to be a generational talent before a series of foot injuries derailed his NBA career.
Two years after health concerns caused him to slide to the Sixers with the third pick in the draft, Embiid finally looks like he might be ready to join the team. By all accounts, his rehab has been going great, and from what we can tell, he appears to be in tremendous physical condition. Barring a setback, all expectations are Embiid will be ready to play in 2016.
The Sixers don't have to make a decision between Okafor and Embiid quite yet. The club can choose to play out the season and make sure Embiid's foot is healed and that he's the real deal, then go from there. Then again, choosing Embiid will always be a gamble, whether it's now or a year later, while the return on a potential Okafor trade may never be more clear.
Most valuable asset
You might say Noel doesn't have near the upside as Okafaor. You can argue the Sixers can't rely on Embiid to stay healthy. You wouldn't be wrong. But the fact of the matter is the only one of the three bigs who would fetch a premium in a trade at this point in time is Okafor.
Noel isn't bringing back a top-five pick, and Embiid is basically untradeable. The Celtics, on the other hand, might be willing to part with the number three selection in this year's draft right now, perhaps more. Are the Sixers really in a position to turn that down?
Again, it's a question of which player the organization wants to build around, and if you're of the opinion the best shot still lies with Okafor, the return in a potential trade might be moot. That being said, maximizing assets is at least a consideration in any swap, and if that's the case, there's only one player on this roster who's of great value to another franchise.
It might be unfair to say Okafor doesn't want to be here, never did. That was the narrative before his arrival anyway, and his attitude has done little to persuade otherwise. Maybe he's just a stoic. Maybe booze-fueled street fights and high-speed police chases are his way of lashing out against the Sixers and his situation. Who knows.
What observers would probably agree on is the prospect the Sixers' losing culture has appeared to weigh heaviest on is Okafor. From his off-the-court behavior to stunted development on the hardwood (more on that in a moment), every action since Okafor's arrival has been subject to intense media scrutiny, and nobody would say he's thrilled by the attention.
Only Okafor and those closest to the 20-year-old truly know how he feels about playing for Philadelphia and this moribund franchise. That being said, it's hard not to get the impression sometimes that he wouldn't be happier elsewhere, and that perhaps it's affecting his play. Maybe, just maybe, a change of scenery would be best, for both sides.
Okafor is a bright young player who will probably average around 20 points and 10 rebounds for the next decade or longer. No one is disputing this, which is why there are inevitably going to be people who think the Sixers would be nuts to give that up. They may even be right.
But there's more to the game than putting the ball in the hoop and pulling down misses because gravity. Some aspects of Okafor's game are still a cause for concern. Will he ever become a plus defender or even passable in his own end? He's also developed a bit of a bad habit when the rock is in his hands, taking ugly shots or turning it over instead of passing. In short, can you build a championship team around a post player in today's league?
True, Okafor has only one year of college and one year of professional ball under his belt, so his defense and basketball IQ should only continue to improve. And any bad habits he's developed on and off the court could certainly be traced in some way to playing on a 10-win team.
Then again, in addition to possible attitude or maturity problems, there are enough red flags to at least wonder whether this is somebody the Sixers should be building around. If the right offer comes across the table, they may not want to wait to find out.