There are a lot of opinions about what the 76ers — and Bryan Colangelo in particular — should do in the Jahlil Okafor situation.
Some say Colangelo, the team president of basketball operations, should have accepted Okafor’s request for a contract buyout once the team didn’t pick up his 2018-19 option on Tuesday. That would have been the goodwill thing to do — especially considering Okafor is completely out of the rotation.
A buyout would enable the third overall pick in the 2015 draft to try to resurrect a career that has been detoured since the night the Sixers drafted him. It would also keep Colangelo in good standing with Okafor’s representation Billy Duffy, one of the NBA’s power agents. By keeping him, Colangelo could run a risk of straining their long-standing relationship.
The Sixers are also taking a public relations hit as Okafor is being viewed as a player being wronged by the franchise.
As a result, some of Colangelo’s most vocal critics are convinced that denying the buyout is something his predecessor Sam Hinkie would not have done.
Well … um … they can keep thinking that.
As much as fans want to blame Colangelo, this decision has to come from above him.
The Sixers have been adamant about not making transactions without getting something in return long before Colangelo was hired.
Think about it. Personally, he has nothing to lose allowing Okafor to walk. Colangelo wasn’t the person who drafted him or created a logjam at the center position.
The only thing folks can blame Colangelo for is perhaps overvaluing Okafor in trade talks. In the past, Okafor’s health, subpar conditioning, off-court incidents and defensive shortcomings were reasons why the Sixers couldn’t trade him and why he remained on the team.
But none of that has anything to do with Colangelo’s legacy.
Folks could add Okafor’s name to Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams as failed first-round selections by the former front office. So no one should criticize Colangelo for what would be another wasted draft pick.
What’s preventing a buyout is the organization’s unwillingness to give anything away for free.
Now, it has been known to overvalue players and then making a deal at the 11th hour — sometimes settling for pennies on the dollar — just to get something back in return.
A prime example is the Evan Turner trade in February 2014.
The Sixers selected him with the second overall pick in the 2010 draft. The team chose not to extend his rookie contract before the October 2013 deadline. They didn’t want to keep him. Nor did they want to lose him to free agency without receiving compensation.
So on Feb. 20, 2014 — right at the trade deadline — they shipped Turner along with Lavoy Allen to the Indiana Pacers for Danny Granger’s expiring contract and what became the last pick (60th) of the 2015 draft. Granger was granted a buyout and never played for the Sixers.
Folks can dress up the trade as much as they like. But that deal was all about making sure they flipped Turner for something.
And they’re determined to do the same with Okafor, especially considering the interest from the Boston Celtics.
As mentioned Wednesday, a source says the Celtics hope the Sixers buy out Okafor’s contract. Boston was awarded an $8.4 million injury exception to fill the void caused by Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury. The Sixers know that, and they don’t want to allow their Atlantic Division rival, with whom they’ve been negotiating, to get Okafor without giving up something.
In the best shape of his professional career, there’s still a market a 21-year-old center with his unique skill set.
He’ll fit in well with a potential playoff team looking to add scoring from the post. A big concern for a trading partner might be whether they’ll be able to sign him in free agency. However, some squads could look at him as just a rental for the remainder of the season. Other teams might try to use his salary as a chip to reach the cap floor.
Whatever the case, odds are against him remaining on the Sixers roster past the Feb. 8 3 p.m. trade deadline. It would mean he’ll be able to walk away without the Sixers receiving anything in return.
But Colangelo will most likely continue to be vilified as someone halting Okafor’s career until he’s traded.
Even worse, there’s always the possibility that Duffy won’t forget this when it comes to the Sixers pursuing another one of his clients.
The team already knows about strained relationships with agents from the Hinkie regime.
One of most publicized cases came a few years back when Hinkie allegedly reneged on promises to Noel, who was represented by Andy Miller at the time. As a result, Miller declined to allow Hinkie to work out and meet with another one of his clients, Kristaps Porzingis, prior to the 2015 draft. The Sixers ultimately chose Okafor, while Porzingis went fourth to the New York Knicks.
Today, the Okafor saga has drawn just as much attention as the Sixers (5-4), who have won five of their past six games.
It is one of the risks you take by making unpopular decisions even when — in this instance — the team is doing what it thinks is best for the organization.