Philadelphia 76ers wise to avoid another Jahlil Okafor situation

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

After an intense standoff that led to an embarrassing trade, the Philadelphia 76ers wisely avoided another Okafor-esque situation with Kawhi Leonard.

As the dust finally settles around the recent RaptorsSpurs trade and Kawhi Leonard-mania has finally loosened its grip on the City of Brotherly Love, I can’t help but draw parallels between his situation and that of ex-Philadelphia 76ers‘ center Jahlil Okafor.

Boy, wasn’t that a nightmare?

While it would be insane to compare the duo on the court, as Leonard is easily a top-10 NBA talent and Okafor may be playing in China next season, there are a striking number of similarities between their situations last season that makes it hard to ignore.

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Much like Leonard, Okafor sustained a nagging injury (knee) that made his availability pretty up in the air and was at odds with the team’s staff over when he could return. Though in this case, it was Philly’s coaching staff holding out their third-year center, not the other way around, but regardless.

With minutes virtually non-existent, Okafor publically pleaded to be bought out from his contract in an attempt to keep his young career on the rails, as he only appeared in two games for the 76ers in the fall of 2017, but the team outright refuses, as they wanted to keep him healthy to maintain his trade stock.

Now granted, some may say this power move backfired, as the Sixers’ offers for Okafor went from a protected first-round pick and a player from New Orleans in March of 2017 to a package of Nik Stauskas, Okafor, and the future second-round pick for an eventually-waived Trevor Booker in December, but when Okafor was eventually traded, his removal from the team essentially served as addition by subtraction.

Finally free from one of the few dark clouds above the team’s season, Philly burst off to a 35-11  record in 2018 in route to their first playoff appearance in half a decade, securing the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

With years and years of success now firmly in reach thanks to the dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Okafor situation will likely go down as nothing more than a minor footnote in the bigger Process storyline, but could you imagine if the team had to go through a similar ordeal again after trading away serious assets for a disgruntled superstar like Kawhi Leonard?

Though some will argue that Philly you did miss out on promising players like Kristaps Porzingis, Justise Winslow, or Devin Booker by selecting Okafor third overall, and sure, that may be true, but there’s no way of knowing how those players would have performed in Brett Brown‘s scheme. We do, however, know that players like Robert Covington and Dario Saric are capable starters on a 50-plus win Eastern Conference contender, and flipping both starting forwards, along with even more assets in the form of draft capital, could have been disastrous for the Sixers long-term potential if Kawhi were to leave after one season.

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And after focusing on adding high character, veteran leaders to their already great locker room this offseason, would it have really been a good idea to throw a personality like Leonard into the fold? With the constant will-he won’t-he of a disgruntled superstar looming like a dark cloud over the 76ers’ 2018-2019 season, every move Philly would have made would have been under serious outside scrutiny, with the pressure mounting to field a deep playoff run to even have a chance of locking in Leonard long-term.

While pressure can create diamonds, it also has a tendency to fracture a locker room and sink a potential dynasty before it even gets off the ground.

OKC anyone?

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Though it may still hurt knowing that the Sixers were unable to add that blue-chip player they so desperately desired to take their roster to the next level, at least the team didn’t completely blow up their core for a fleeting chance to face off against the seemingly unbeatable Golden State Warriors with a one-year rental player. With their young course still intact, a few new potentially valuable draft picks in their war chest, and enough cap room to go after a max contract player next summer, the Philadelphia 76ers’ inactivity in the summer of 2018 could set the team up for an even bigger 2019 and beyond, avoiding some unwanted superstar drama in the process.