NEW YORK – The 76ers players have fond memories of playing with Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas. They even consider the Brooklyn Nets reserves amongst their closest friends.
But Wednesday night’s matchup at Barclays Center will be far from a mushy reunion.
“We are going to go at them,” Ben Simmons said of his former teammates. “It’s going to be fun seeing them. But at the same time, we got business to handle in Brooklyn.”
The Sixers (24-23) traded Okafor, Stauskas and a 2019 second-round pick to the Nets for Trevor Booker on Dec. 7. The Nets took an 18-32 record into Tuesday night’s matchup against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Stauskas has made a bigger impact in Brooklyn than Okafor.
The shooting guard averaged 6.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists in 14.9 minutes through 18 appearances with the Nets. Stauskas was also shooting a career-best 46.6 percent on three-pointers.
He has taken advantage of the times in which he’s received extended-minute opportunities. On Saturday, Stauskas had 15 points while making 3-of-6 three-pointers in 32 minutes, 32 seconds of action against the Minnesota Timberwolves. One of his best games came on Dec. 27 against the New Orleans Pelicans when he made 7 of 10 three-pointers to score 21 points. The Canadian scored a season-high 22 points while making 5 of 7 threes against his hometown Toronto Raptors on Dec. 15.
“It’s going to be weird seeing him on the other side, checking in to beat us,” T.J. McConnell said of his best friend in the NBA. “So it’s going to be weird, but fun at the same time to see him.
“I haven’t seen him since he got traded.”
The same can be said about Okafor, whom the Sixers were finally able to move.
The organization had been trying for some time to trade Okafor, whom they acquired with the third overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. They did not pick up his 2018-19 option, declining to extend his rookie contract before the October deadline. Okafor also wanted out.
Now, he’s in Brooklyn, where he’s averaged 5.9 points and 2.2 rebounds in 12.1 minutes. Okafor has played in only 14 games with the Nets prior to Tuesday’s game.
While he and Stauskas might be motivated to face their former team, Booker said Wednesday’s matchup is “just another game.”
“It’s going to be good to see the guys,” he said, “but it’s not a special game for me.”
At the time of the trade, the 30-year-old Booker was looked upon as a great addition to the Sixers’ bench. However, he has seen less game time with the Sixers than in Brooklyn, where he played 21.9 minutes a night. Booker averaged 10.1 points with the Nets and made six starts. In Philly, he’s averaging 5.2 points and 15 minutes in 22 games — all off the bench. Booker will become an unrestricted free agent in July.