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Okafor Stays, Process in Question

Sean Lynch, Columnist

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Three weeks ago, Sixers fans had their hopes in a team pushing for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, set to deal Jahlil Okafor for just about anything they could get at that point.

The Sixers front office told him to pack his bags as he was left off the team’s road trip prior to the trade deadline.  Three potential teams (Portland, Boston, and New Orleans) were leaked as probable suitors for the 6’11 center, but none of those deals came in to fruition.  Portland didn’t happen because they traded for Jusuf Nurkic.  Boston had a lot of interest, but that developed into a three-team deal involving Paul George and Jimmy Butler that simply dissolved. Lastly, New Orleans orchestrated the deal of the century for Demarcus Cousins in exchange for basically nothing.

Those trades left Bryan Colangelo in sticky situation at the deadline.  Feeling the pressure from fans to move Okafor to open up space in the frontcourt, Colangelo instead accepted a trade to move 22 year-old Nerlens Noel to Dallas in exchange for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson, and a heavily protected 2017 first rounder.

To make matters worse from that return, Bogut negotiated a buyout and is signing with the Cavaliers, and that heavily protected first round pic will likely translate into two second rounders in 2017 and 2020.

Noel was a fan favorite in Philadelphia. He was one of the originals of “the process.”  Nobody expected the Sixers to ship him, especially with the interest in Okafor.  Noel was playing some of his best basketball and had built a strong relationship with the future of the franchise in Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Ben Simmons.

Noel was clearly miles ahead of Okafor in his performance on the court.  While he doesn’t have the offensive prowess of Okafor, the guy is a defensive beast.  His gifted athleticism allows him to crash the boards and block shots at will.

Okafor hasn’t made much of a difference for the organization in his time in Philly.  His style of play slows down the team’s fast-paced offense, and he’s lazy to the point that he’d rather go through the motions on the floor than actually set a screen to give a teammate an open look.  Not to mention his defense is so horrendous he made Zaza Pachulia actually look like an all-star in their last game against the Warriors.

If there is anything to learn from the Sixers’ inability to get rid of Okafor, it’s that Colangelo is in over his head.  It’s clear that he over valued Jah and sat in his office waiting for a call that never came.  If the Sixers’ front office was okay with accepting the return for Noel, why were they so reluctant to take a deal for Okafor? Clearly Noel is currently valued higher and has a higher ceiling than Okafor.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t see Noel remaining a Sixer for much longer.  He is establishing himself as a young, elite, rim-protector who a lot of franchises could potentially build around.  Not to mention Noel is a restricted free agent this offseason, meaning he could be getting a nice pay raise in the near future.

Regardless of whether he’s worth significant money or not (I think he might be), the Sixers would be paying him roughly $60 to $70 million  to come off the bench; assuming Embiid can stay healthy for the majority of his career.

Looking forward, Sixers fans will have to resort back to hope to get them through the remainder of the season.  With the announcements that Simmons and Embiid’s injuries have sidelined them until next season, the organization has committed itself to another year of tanking.

However, there are some positive takeaways from this front office disaster. Well, maybe only two: Justin Anderson and the emergence of Richaun Holmes.

Anderson, who was part of that deal with Dallas, is a young, athletic wing whose value can really only go up.  Not given many chances with the Mavs other than a few minutes off the bench for Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes, Anderson needs to improve his jump shot if he wants to make an impact in the NBA, but he has the athletic ability and potential to be an elite perimeter defender.  Anderson brings qualities Philly fans love: hard work ethic, passion, and energy.  He could be a valued role player in the Sixers’ long-term plans.

Holmes, a second year player with the Sixers, was the last center on the totem pole in Philly.  He has patiently waited for his opportunity to prove his worth, and his taking full advantage of the situation.  He’s a versatile, big man who is able to seamlessly play at the power forward whenever asked.  In his last five games, he’s averaged 12.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in 24 minutes on the floor.

The upcoming offseason might be the biggest for the Sixers.  If Simmons and Embiid are able to stay healthy, this team is one free agent signing and a solid draft pick away from being immediate playoff contenders.  In need of a guard, players like Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Malik Monk, and Dennis Smith Jr. are all names on Philly’s radar come June.  You can expect Okafor to be moved in this year’s draft as well.

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Okafor Stays, Process in Question