DENVER - One by one the 76ers players, coaches and staff members on hand for a voluntary workout embraced JaKarr Sampson outside the Denver Nuggets locker room Tuesday at the Pepsi Center.
"Good job, big man," Ish Smith said to Sampson, the Nuggets' starting small forward. "Keep doing your thing, except tomorrow."
"What's up, Jee-REE?" trainer Kevin Johnson playfully said to Sampson.
For a moment it was like old times for the 6-foot-9, 214-pounder, who a little over a month ago was the most beloved Sixer.
But thanks to a huge miscalculation by the Sixers' front office, Sampson will be on the opposing team in their matchup Wednesday night.
"It's going to be weird," said Sampson, who is listed as questionable for the game with a strained right shoulder. "But they are my guys. They are always going to be my guys."
The second-year veteran never imagined playing against the guys he refers to as his brothers. Sampson even occasionally slipped up and referred to the Sixers as "we."
"Even though I was on a non-guaranteed [contract], I was expecting to be there longer than what I was," he said. "A lot of that had to do with I like Philly. I fell in love with the city.
"I loved how the city supported us. They still support us even though we are going through struggles, and we have been going through struggles for like three years."
Sampson chuckled after it was pointed out that he kept referring to himself as a Sixer.
He admits to being initially upset when the team waived him on the evening of Feb. 18 to open up a roster spot for Joel Anthony in a three-team trade. The Sixers had planned to waive Anthony once the deal was finalized and reclaim Sampson once he cleared waivers.
However, he opted instead to sign a two-year deal with the Nuggets. And the deal that would have brought Anthony and a 2017 second-round pick to Philly was voided. So the Sixers basically cut Sampson for nothing.
But the former St. John's standout might be in a better spot in Denver. It can be argued that he's being better utilized as a Nugget.
"On the court, I told him Day 1, 'You are here because of your defense. Let's not have any misconceived perceptions of why you are here,' " Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. "I said, 'I value you because of your ability to guard one through four. I value you because of your athleticism and your ability to get out and run the floor.' "
So after playing a reserve role in his first three games with Denver, Sampson has started the last 12.
He may not get the 13th in a row after suffering a game-ending shoulder injury Monday in the second quarter of a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He missed practice Tuesday and the team will evaluate his discomfort level before making a decision on his status for Wednesday night.
Sampson has averaged 4.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 16.9 minutes in 15 games with the Nuggets.
"He's been terrific," Malone said. "I put him on LeBron [James], Carmelo [Anthony], John Wall, whoever it is. He goes out there, even if the other guy scores, he's going to make him work for everything he gets. So I'm been very impressed with JaKarr as a young man."
His former coach has been impressed, too. "They use him as the starting spark," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "He's a big personality and good person."
Having that mutual admiration from Brown and his former teammates, getting cut was initially tough for Sampson.
"It ended up being a positive," he said. "I'm with a great organization, Denver, and I've got a great coach and a great team and we are building something great over here."
Jahlil Okafor had arthroscopic surgery to repair a tear of the meniscus in his right knee on Tuesday, the Sixers said. The season-ending procedure was performed by surgeon James Andrews and head team doctor Christopher Dodson. . . . Robert Covington participated in shooting and competitive drills in the voluntary workout. He remains on track to play against the Nuggets after missing the last six games with a concussion.