Philadelphia 76ers: Can Jahlil Okafor stick around in New Orleans?

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

After a bounce-back season in 2018-19, can Philadelphia 76ers draftee Jahlil Okafor stick around on the loaded new-look New Orleans Pelicans?

Do you remember Jahlil Okafor?

Jahlil ‘reckless-driving-at-108-mph, street-fighting-outside-a-Boston-nightclub, traded-to-the-Nets-for-Trevor-freaking-Booker‘ Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft who will forever go down in history as the final first-round selection of Sam Hinkie‘s tenure as the Philadelphia 76ers‘ GM (though there is always hope for a reunion).

Did you know he’s still in the NBA? Gosh, that feels like an eternity ago.

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Well, guess what? Despite playing for three different teams over the last three seasons, Okafor very much still is in the NBA, and against all odds – including failing to sign a contract until August 9th of 2018 – he’s transformed into a pretty darn good player in the most unlikeliest of situations.

That’s right, while the national spotlight playfully mocked the New Orleans Pelicans for thoroughly botching Anthony Davis‘ tenure in the ‘Big Easy’, Okafor somehow transformed into the best big man on Alvin Gentry‘s roster – alright, second-best behind new Knicks cornerstone Julius Randle.

But unlike Randle, who was paid very handsomely on a two-year, $17.7 million deal with a 2019-20 option following his abrupt divorce from the Los Angeles Lakers, Okafor was playing on a two-year, $3.26 million deal worth just a smidge above the league average.

However, unlike most fourth-year players making the ninth most money on their franchise, Okafor routinely finished out games among the Pelicans’ leading scorers and rebounders – leading the team in points three times and rebounds four times over his 59 regular-season appearances.

And with a bit more seasoning, things could only get spicier for Jah in Saints country.

With a newfound attitude and a commitment to a semi-vegan diet, Okafor went way into fitness (as per GQ) and thoroughly resculpted his body to become leaner, meaner, and most importantly, more durable for his upcoming fifth NBA season – at least until things took an almost statistically impossible turn in the Pelicans’ favor.

The surprise owners of the first overall pick after a historic Lottery performance, the Pelicans selected Zion Williamson, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Jaxson Hayes in the NBA Draft, traded Davis to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart, and filled out their roster with veteran leaders Derrick Favors and J.J. Redick (you will be missed).

But what does that mean for Okafor’s future in New Orleans, if not the NBA in general?

I’m glad you asked.

With one final year left on his contract at a very team-friendly number, it’s almost impossible to imagine the Pelicans outright waiving Okafor before the season opens up on October 22nd – so barring a trade, it looks like Jah will be in New Orleans this fall.

The role Okafor will fill, however, should look considerably different.

With Favors slotted in as the team’s ‘starting’ center, Hayes drafted to be an ultra-athletic change of pace floor runner (a la Nerlens Noel), and Zion expected to earn his fair share of minutes at the five, Okafor’s role may diminish considerably as the team attempts to find the ‘right’ pieces to pair with the new face of their franchise.

But in a weird way, that openness could be a good thing for Okafor.

While he may seem like the odd man out on the surface, Okafor could conceivably run with an opportunity to serve as the team’s big ball center and form an ultra young, ultra-prestigious frontcourt partnership the likes of which the Pelicans have never really had in their 18-year history.

And frankly, if Okafor doesn’t stick in NO, there are plenty of teams who would line up to offer him a brand new deal – and a more lucrative deal to boot.

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Ultimately, how the New Orleans Pelicans decide to structure their frontcourt rotation in 2019-20 will be directly related to Zion Williamson’s development and the sets Alvin Gentry and David Griffin believe will optimize that development, but after having to include a pick to move his contract, it’s clear Jahlil Okafor has developed into a pretty great NBA player – too bad it happened after he left the Philadelphia 76ers.