Jahlil Okafor’s days as a 76er have been numbered since his rookie season, so it’s not surprising that the Sixers talk openly about their intent to resume trade discussions involving the third-year veteran.
“Bryan’s going to do his job,” coach Brett Brown said of team president Bryan Colangelo, who is looking for a trade partner. “I’m going to coach him, and we are going to see what goes on with the rest of the league in relation to whatever else is out there.
“But I’m coaching him like he’s mine.”
He’ll continue to do that until the 21-year-old is no longer on the roster.
“I am excited to coach him until somebody tells me that I’m not,” Brown said.
Okafor will get “every opportunity to earn playing time,” Brown said. Right now, Okafor is competing with Richaun Holmes and free-agent signee Amir Johnson for the backup center position.
Joel Embiid, the standout starter, has not been cleared for 5-on-5 scrimmages with training camp starting Tuesday. The Sixers said there was no timetable for his return. As a result, expect Okafor, if healthy, to get a lot of playing time in the preseason to showcase his skills to potential trading partners.
He participated in a 3-on-3 scrimmage Tuesday. This comes after Okafor saw both of his NBA seasons cut short by injuries to his right knee. He missed 18 games last season because of the knee. He also missed two games to rest, another because of hamstring tightness, and three with gastroenteritis.
Okafor’s knee has been bothering him since he had surgery March 22, 2016, to repair a torn meniscus. The injury could make it hard for the Sixers to get what they deem as equal value for the 6-foot-11 center, the third overall pick of the 2015 draft.
Okafor sees himself as a starter in the NBA.
“But he finds himself in a situation where there is a pretty big roadblock ahead,” Colangelo said in April. “So … we discussed scenarios with his agent that we can find something mutually beneficial.
“But if not, I’m happy to have Jahlil a part of this organization.”
The Sixers had trade discussions about Okafor with several teams last season — including the Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, and Denver Nuggets — leading up to the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Okafor was even held out of two games, Feb. 11 at home against Miami and Feb. 13 at Charlotte, because the Sixers said they were close to a trade. He didn’t even accompany the team on the flight to Charlotte.
Okafor was also the center of trade discussions during, and the summer after, his rookie season. However, Okafor never let being shopped around affect his attitude toward the organization. He has displayed a serious commitment to his diet this offseason. Eating mostly vegan foods, he was down to 258 pounds in August. That’s 20 pounds lighter than the weight at which he entered training camp last year.
“Jahlil’s effort to get back in shape and try to earn his way back into this team is respected,” Brown said.
Okafor has averaged 14.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 103 NBA games.