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Divorce is (mercifully) imminent for the Philadelphia 76ers and Jahlil Okafor.
As Philly Voice’s Kyle Neubeck first reported Tuesday—and the team later confirmed—the Sixers didn’t pick up Okafor’s fourth-year option for 2018-19. The big man will instead hit unrestricted free agency in July.
This news comes on the heels of league sources telling ESPN.com’s Chris Haynes that Okafor’s camp was “collaborating” with Philadelphia to find a “suitable trade” for the 21-year-old. The Sixers’ decision to decline his option infers a freezing-cold market while nodding to their interest in a summer spending spree.
“Multiple members of the organization insisted privately that cap flexibility next summer is a major priority for the team, and they are hopeful they can bring max-level players to the negotiation table,” Neubeck wrote. “With Joel Embiid’s big raise set to kick in next summer and Robert Covington likely on the verge of signing an extension, Bryan Colangelo and his staff need to find ways to free up money elsewhere.”
Cutting the cord with Okafor after this season trims $6.3 million from the Sixers’ bottom line if they let him come off the books. They also could still deal him prior to February’s trade deadline, according to ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The following hypothetical trades will reflect the Sixers’ wide scope of options. They range from pure dumps to “at least they got something” to “Hey! That’s not terrible!”
Certain deals will lean into their cap conservation. Others will involve them taking on additional salary. Latter scenarios will not require them to bow out of the free-agency ring entirely, but the Sixers cannot expect to move Okafor while saving money at every turn.
Judging from the decision to decline his option, Okafor’s value holds firm at zero-zilch-nada. His appeal dips even further knowing any team that trades for him won’t be able to offer him a starting salary in free agency worth more than the $6.3 million he was initially owed next year, per ESPN.com’s Bobby Marks.
If the Sixers are unwilling to add any salary whatsoever, they might as well broker a buyout—which Okafor may push for, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times—or wait for his salary to slither off their books in July.
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Atlanta Hawks Receive: PG/SG Jerryd Bayless and C Jahlil Okafor
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: SG/SF Kent Bazemore
Where Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk has been reluctant in the past to characterize his team’s most recent pivot as a rebuild, majority owner Tony Ressler has no such qualms. As he told NBA.com’s David Aldridge:
“Truly, there are three options in the NBA, I would argue: being a contender, being a competitive team, and being young and fun. At least that would be my opinion. And we didn’t have the option of being a contender. So we could be competitive, or more competitive, and maybe, shall we say, with a whole bunch of higher-priced vets that made us older and made our payroll less flexible, and made our future more cloudy.”
Selling off pricey veterans who don’t align with the refashioned window is part and parcel of every serious rebuild. Getting off the final three years and $54.3 million—including this one—on Kent Bazemore’s deal should be a top priority for the Hawks as they look to distance themselves from possible paths back toward mediocrity.
Taking on Okafor and Jerryd Bayless saves them a few million bucks this season, another $9.5 million next year and then $19.3 million in 2019-20, when both incomers will have come off the ledger. A 29-year-old Bayless doesn’t fit their timeline any more than a 28-year-old Bazemore, but he’s substantially cheaper and better suited to fill the secondary-playmaker void behind Dennis Shcroder.
Acquiring Bazemore doesn’t tack on too much salary for the Sixers when considering the outbound salary. Had they not declined Okafor’s team option, he and Bayless would have run them $14.9 million in 2018-19. Bazemore costs an extra $3.2 million.
Things get more expensive in 2019-20, but that will be the final year of Bazemore’s deal. Paying him for that long is a justifiable hedge against other perimeter losses. Robert Covington, JJ Redick and Nik Stauskas (restricted) are all slated for free agency in July, and Justin Anderson will follow suit in 2019.
Covington is a keeper, especially since his cap hold will barely eat into the Sixers’ flexibility before he signs a new deal—provided they don’t extend him come mid-November. Bazemore would be a nice hybrid replacement for the other three. His offensive efficiency has plummeted as the Hawks expand his role, but he’s a stout and switchy defender who will bang in more three-pointers on a Sixers team with the personnel to generate tons of space.
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Brooklyn Nets Receive: C Jahlil Okafor
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: PF Quincy Acy and 2018 Indiana Pacers second-round pick (bottom-15 protected through 2022)
The Brooklyn Nets don’t need another big man. They already have Jarrett Allen, Trevor Booker, Timofey Mozgov and Tyler Zeller. But they’ve also become a primary hub for revitalizing player stocks.
Poll DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and D’Angelo Russell. They’ll tell you.
Brooklyn has the timeline to experiment—tethered neither to tanking nor win-now mandates. Head coach Kenny Atkinson doesn’t have anyone averaging 30 minutes per game for a second straight season, and almost everyone gets an opportunity to play if they’re healthy. Why not roll the dice on a No. 3 pick who’s now an expiring contract?
Adding Okafor does eat into the frontcourt minutes pool, even when accounting for the Nets’ across-the-board cap. But they aren’t obligated to play Mozgov—or, for that matter, Zeller. They should have no issue carving out 15-plus minutes a night for Okafor, just to get a feel for whether he deserves more extended run.
Playing on the NBA’s fastest team doesn’t jibe with Okafor’s back-to-the-basket arsenal, but the Sixers haven’t exactly conducted themselves like snails with him on the court. The Nets can try slowing things down for him with the second unit and encourage him to zip toward the corners and fire up threes when they’re running the floor.
Again: This acquisition is purely experimental for a squad that traffics in schedule-long beta tests.
Philly pulls the trigger to wash its hands of the situation. Quincy Acy is basically a souped-up, jump-shooting Reggie Evans. He’ll become a fan favorite, then slink off the books in July. The Sixers cannot ask for a much more convenient short-term marriage under the circumstances.
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Chicago Bulls Receive: C Jahlil Okafor
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: PG Cameron Payne
Why, yes, yours truly is still pounding this drum.
Okafor is from Chicago. The Bulls are barely an NBA team. He needs an opportunity to work his offensive magic. Their center carousel ranks dead last in points scored per 100 possessions.
Make. This. Happen.
Cameron Payne is a small price to pay for a partial-season flyer on Okafor—unless, of course, Chicago remains convinced he’s worth something.
Which it might.
“The thing with Cam, he obviously came in during the middle of the season,” Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said, per the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Joe Cowley. “He came at a tough time. The biggest thing we saw, especially in the playoff prep when he was playing the role of Isaiah Thomas, he really showed an ability to get downhill, spray the ball out.”
A shifty point man no doubt fits how Hoiberg wants to play, but the Bulls have a zillion guards. He only complicates a pecking order that includes Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant, David Nwaba, Denzel Valentine and, eventually, Zach LaVine. And this badumes he’s ever healthy enough to play. He’s recovering from surgery on his right foot for the second time.
Though the Sixers don’t need another playmaker, they don’t not need one. Bayless doesn’t scream “primary ball-handler,” and Markelle Fultz is sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury. Jump ahead, and T.J. McConnell is earmarked for free agency in 2019 (team option this summer). Bayless is right there with him.
It doesn’t hurt to have another safety net on deck. Payne will be on his rookie-scale salary through 2018-19, and he proved at times to be an electrifying presence during his rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He drained 44.4 percent of his spot-up triples before the All-Star break and showcased some nice shimmies into the lane. He’s worth the small bit of additional salary-cap maneuvering his $3.3 million salary for next season requires.
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Dallas Mavericks Receive: C Jahlil Okafor and SG Nik Stauskas
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: SG/SF Wesley Matthews
Wesley Matthews needs to play for a good team. And gosh darnit, the Sixers are close to a good team. They’re hovering around .500 and are once again pummeling opponents when Joel Embiid is in the game.
Bringing in Matthews to bolster the bench and unlock some nifty wing-heavy combinations serves them well in the Eastern Conference’s playoff discussion. He still scraps and claws on the defensive end, and his job only gets easier facing off against second-stringers and ancillary options. He’s also drilling 45 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys, which will play nicely within a Sixers rotation that features one of the league’s seven best pbaders. (Yes, Ben Simmons is already that good.)
Paying Matthews $18.6 million next season (player option) won’t sit too well with the Sixers, particularly after they re-sign Covington. But they have to weigh the likelihood of successfully poaching a high-end free agent against the opportunity to snare a quality three-and-D specialist for two players who won’t be on the roster in 2018-19.
Plus, the Sixers theoretically could still open up more than $25 million in spending power with Matthews on board. Renounce all their own free agents, jettison Bayless’ expiring deal, carry Covington’s sub-$2 million hold and poof! They’re right there, no matter how many first-rounders they have in their possession.
The Mavericks should pounce at the chance to get out from the final season of Matthews’ deal. They have zero obligations to Okafor and Stauskas after this year but would get a few months to see whether either one is worth keeping around.
Who knows? Okafor might wind up being a nice longer-term stopgap should Nerlens Noel, his former teammate, seek out the nearest exit when he reaches unrestricted free agency next summer. If nothing else, this trade arms Dallas with a mountain of cap flexibility one year earlier than expected.
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New York Knicks Receive: C Jahlil Okafor and SG Nik Stauskas
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: PF/C Kyle O’Quinn and SF/PF Lance Thomas
Only, like, five or six percent of this scenario has to do with the poetic irony attached to putting Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis on the same team.
The rest is about slimming down the New York Knicks’ frontcourt rotation and providing the Sixers with some finishing touches.
Willy Hernangomez hardly gets to see the floor now, and his situation won’t get any better once Joakim Noah returns from suspension. Consolidating Kyle O’Quinn and Lance Thomas into Okafor dredges up a few more frontcourt minutes.
Dealing O’Quinn stings. He is super cheap and profiles as the Knicks’ most valuable defender by a light-year, according to NBA Math. But they save around $11.4 million in cap space this summer by turning his player option and Thomas into Okafor’s expiring deal and Stauskas, who they can renounce.
Assuming O’Quinn exercises his $4.3 million player option for 2018-19, the Sixers would be adding eight figures to next year’s salary bill. But they’ll still have a clear path to $30 million or more in room if they suss out new digs for Bayless and renounce all of their other free agents.
Both O’Quinn and Thomas serve purposes beyond this year if it comes to that. The Sixers should tell Amir Johnson to peace out over the summer, and they could use a cheap emergency big in his stead—you know, just in case injury bugs ever use Embiid as a chew toy again. Thomas is an affordable combo wing who can play with or help offset the departures of Covington and Redick. And if things don’t work out, only $1 million of his $7.6 million salary in 2019-20 is guaranteed.
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Size is a constant need for the Boston Celtics.
This year is slightly different since they don’t stink something awful on the defensive glbad. They’re collecting 80.9 percent of opponent misses, the fourth-best mark in the league.
Still, they have started playing both Aron Baynes and Al Horford from the opening tip. They could use another big body on the roster, and Okafor wouldn’t look totally out of place. They rank in the top one-third of post-up frequency and have the switchy gnats on the perimeter to simplify his defensive role.
And most importantly: They have head coach Brad Stevens, who maximizes the skills of everyone under his care. He’d find a way to make Okafor look like an NBA player.
The Memphis Grizzlies would need to create a roster spot to make room for Okafor—or hope the Sixers are irrationally high on Brandan Wright. But if no one else claims the 21-year-old, something about him spending the next six or seven months under Marc Gasol’s wing just feels right.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Enes Kanter, Version 0.45, reporting for duty.
Truthfully, the Thunder have no real need for Okafor. Most of their backup frontcourt minutes should be going to Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson.
But general manager Sam Presti is in badet-collection mode. And Okafor is a (fallen) top-three prospect with the offensive skeleton of a dude they were paying $17-plus million until Carmelo Anthony came to his senses.
If given the opportunity, Oklahoma City can talk itself into trying Okafor on for size.
San Antonio Spurs
A top-two head coach? Check.
An enduring commitment to post-up possessions? Check.
Enough perimeter defenders to help turn Okafor into a LaMarcus Aldridge-level rim protector? Check.
The mystique of a superpower known for extracting the most possible production from its bigs? Check.
Look, let’s not be coy: If Okafor negotiates a buyout this season and is fortunate enough to pick his next destination, he should do whatever it takes to land with the San Antonio Spurs.
Unless otherwise cited, all stats are courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference and current leading into games on Nov. 1.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast co-hosted by B/R’s Andrew Bailey.