It’s been nearly three weeks since Jahlil Okafor made it clear that he wants to leave a Philadelphia 76ers team that no longer seems to have any use for the center they chose with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. In that time, the Sixers have played eight games. Okafor has appeared in one of them, a Nov. 7 win over the Utah Jazz. Philly played that game without star center Joel Embiid. Even so, Okafor got just three minutes and eight seconds of tick behind veteran Amir Johnson and Richaun Holmes … whom the Sixers drafted 34 spots after Okafor in 2015.
That outing brought the former Duke standout to a grand total of 25 minutes played in the 2017-18 NBA season, one that sees him operating as an end-of-the-bench afterthought on a team that has moved on without him. Chukwudi Okafor — Jahlil’s dad, a proud papa more than willing to publicly defend and advocate for his son — expressed his displeasure at the stasis, showing up to the 76ers’ Saturday night game against the Golden State Warriors wearing a shirt bearing a simple two-word message on the back:
Jahlil Okafor's father wore a shirt to the game that said "Free Jah" on the back of it.
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) November 19, 2017
— Philly Sports Talk (@PhilaSports_) November 19, 2017
After the game, which saw the Sixers get out to a roaring start before the defending NBA champions flipped the switch and blew their doors off in the second half, several members of the Warriors — including former NBA Most Valuable Players Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, and Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green — posed with Jahlil’s dad as he showcased the shirt’s message:
— McKinley Nelson (@McKinleyNelson_) November 19, 2017
It sucks to ride the bench, but at least it’s nice to have some high-profile supporters in your corner, I suppose. (Also, it’s nice to find some common ground where members of the Warriors and Cavaliers can come together. Well, beyond not liking a sitting president, anyway.)
It’s not unreasonable for the Sixers to conclude that Okafor, a polished post player who doesn’t have range out to the perimeter and who struggles to protect the rim or defend in space, should not be part of the long-term calculus on a Sixers team that will be built around the 7-foot-1 Embiid and the 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons. Okafor obviously doesn’t like that he’s no longer a part of the Sixers’ plans, but he has come to accept it.
He has requested a buyout or trade that would allow him to try to catch on elsewhere so he can try to rebuild his perceived value around the league before he enters unrestricted free agency this summer — a market in which he’ll find himself because Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo chose not to exercise the fourth-year option on Okafor’s rookie contract. Despite those requests, though, nothing’s moving. Unless Colangelo can find some GM willing to part ways with a second-rounder out of the kindness of his heart, or until Colangelo realizes he can’t get anything for a player whose market doesn’t exist, Okafor remains stuck.
Maybe Colangelo will warm up and decide to cut the 21-year-old big man loose so he can set about restarting his career. Until that sudden burst of holiday charity comes, though, it looks like Okafor will continue manning a spot on Brett Brown’s bench, and his dad will continue making his screen-printed statements.
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