Jahlil Okafor’s tenure with the 76ers will not continue past this season.
The team will not pick up the 2018-19 option on the player it drafted third overall in the 2015 draft. The team had until Tuesday night to make a decision on player options for first-rounders on rookie deals.
Okafor was in line to make $6.3 million in what would be his fourth year, if the option had been picked up. However, the Sixers opted not to retain him after they were unable to find a trade partner. This move allows the Sixers to free up $6.3 million from next season’s cap space.
However, the Sixers did pick up Justin Anderson’s fourth-year deal, worth about $2.5 million. They also exercised their third-year options for Ben Simmons (around $6.4 million), Dario Saric (around $3.2 million) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (around $1.8 million).
The Sixers have been trying to trade Okafor for more than two seasons. However, teams are unwilling to give up what the Sixers believe is equal value. Some squads even asked for an additional player or a future draft pick in order to take Okafor off their hands. According to a league source, the Toronto Raptors considered trading for Okafor this summer. However, they would only do it if Robert Covington was included in the trade. The Sixers declined.
Okafor’s injury history and the perception that he is a defensive liability have a lot to do with why the Sixers have been unable to move him.
One would have assumed that they would have been eager to pick up his contract just to enhance his trade value. Potential trade partners would know that he would have another year on his rookie contract. However, the Sixers weren’t willing to give away another player or future asset to make the deal work. As a result, the team felt it would have been stuck with the $6.3 million salary. That’s why the Sixers didn’t pick up his option.
Without his option picked up, Okafor will become a free agent in July. That would allow him to sign wherever he wants.
The Chicago native has made only one game appearance this season. And that was only because he and Amir Johnson were the only two traditional centers available against the Raptors on Oct. 21. It was the second of two games on consecutive nights. Starter Joel Embiid hasn’t been cleared to play on back-to-back nights, so he sat out that game. Also, reserve center Richaun Holmes remained sidelined.
Okafor joins Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams as recent first-rounders who didn’t make it into the Sixers’ long-term rebuilding plans.