Time for Jahlil Okafor to go elsewhere | Bob Brookover

Sixers center Jahlil Okafor speaks with the media Thursday, April 13, 2017.

The season had ended 14 hours earlier in Madison Square Garden for the 76ers and already the questions about next season were flying at the team's practice facility near the Camden waterfront.

Jahlil Okafor was not taking the bait early Thursday afternoon.

The 6-foot-11 center was willing to look deep into the future, but he did not want to talk too much about next season.

"Having a long career playing the game that I love" is what Okafor said he envisions for himself. "I want to play in the NBA for a long time."


Does Bryan Colangelo have the 76ers on the right track?

That's entirely in the realm of possibility for a 21-year-old who made the 2015-16 NBA all-rookie team after being selected third overall by the 76ers. Narrow the focus to next season, however, and Okafor thinks it's too far away to predict.

He's right about that, too.

If you were asked to forecast what was ahead for Okafor in his second NBA season just one day after his first one ended, you would have been wrong as wrong can be. A year ago at this time, he was the king of the Sixers' youngsters. Sure, that was kind of like being the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind, but he had averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds per game as a 20-year-old rookie. The fact that he played at all as a 76ers rookie first-round pick made him unique.

The Sixers couldn't wait to see what he'd do with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric, which clearly fell under the careful-what-you-wish-for designation.

Now, all we wonder about Okafor is why he's still here, which is not entirely fair. The answer, of course, is that general manager Bryan Colangelo could not get anything of value for Okafor at the February trade deadline. The next chance to trade him will come in a little over two months at the NBA draft. Okafor insisted Thursday that he hopes it does not happen.

"I love being here," he said. "I'm close with everybody here. We have amazing teammates, a bunch of young guys who are hungry and looking to get better and great things are happening here in Philadelphia and I'd love to be a part of it."

It is an endearing answer for a guy who clearly does not fit into the plans for the future, even if he was willing to be a high-profile backup to Embiid, the cracked foundation the Sixers want to build upon. It was obvious rather quickly that the two men were not a good fit on the court together even if they both insist they get along well off it.

"Whatever they tell me to do, I'll embrace," Okafor said. "Right now it's so far-fetched for me to go into next season. This season just ended, so all my focus is on getting healthy."

Okafor probably meant it is too far off to think about next season, but it is also far-fetched to think he will still be wearing a 76ers uniform when training camp opens in the fall. Richaun Holmes played well enough to make Okafor expendable. The relevant questions: Can the Sixers get anything of value for him and, if not, would they be willing to get rid of him anyway?

One year removed from making the all-rookie team, the third overall pick must have some value. Sure, the season that just ended could not have gone more wrong unless Okafor had got into some more street brawls and been stopped going 200 mph on the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Instead, he showed signs of maturity by the way he handled all the adversity he faced, starting with the right knee injury that dogged him from start to finish after offseason surgery.

"I wouldn't make any excuses for my knee," he said. "It was fine when I was able to play. It was just a weird year for me - playing and then not playing. The fluctuating minutes might not have been the best thing for my knee, but I'm going to do what I can do to make the best of it.

"This was probably the most I've learned in a year of playing basketball in regards to being a professional, taking proper care of my body and managing how you do everything. It was a very useful year for me and I was happy I was able to handle things in the right way."

Okafor never complained about playing time to coach Brett Brown. He never demanded a trade. He was probably never fully healthy, either.

"I definitely got frustrated through times of the year," he said. "Luckily, I have an amazing head coach, an amazing GM and an amazing staff that tried to keep my head above water and tried to maintain my confidence. They made sure I did not get down on myself with the situation I was in and I was just blessed to be where I am."

That's nice, but now it's time for Okafor to move on because he can only impede the process and The Process.