- The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t pick up a fourth-year contract option for Jahlil Okafor, setting him up to hit free agency this offseason.
- Okafor has been out of the lineup this season and has said he wants to play.
- Okafor has requested a trade or buyout from the 76ers and was open about trying to find a new team.
The Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday did not pick up the fourth-year option on Jahlil Okafor’s contract, setting him up to hit free agency this offseason.
Okafor has played just one game this season, logging 22 minutes, and played just 12 games after the All-Star break last season as he’s fallen out of favour with the Sixers.
Now, it appears the situation is coming to a head. Okafor has barely played since the 76ers nearly traded him at last year’s deadline before the deal came apart, making for an awkward reunion. Now it’s clear he’s not in the teams’ future plans, and he’d like a chance to play and prove himself somewhere else.
When Okafor was asked about the option not being picked up, he was honest and mature to reporters, but his transparency is one rarely seen in sports.
“I honestly didn’t want them to pick up my option,” Okafor said (via Rich Hofmann of The Athletic). “I’ve been going through a lot since I’ve been here, so the fact that I know that at the end of the season that I’ll at least have an opportunity to play elsewhere, that’s great. Now I’m just in a position to where, how can I get on the court? That’s not happening here and I want to play.”
Okafor called it “fine” that he’s out of the rotation, but was adamant about wanting to play elsewhere.
Okafor confirmed that he asked team president Bryan Colangelo for a buyout, criticising the team’s decision to wait on trading him because his value is now low.
“I only talked about it with Bryan and he just said that he felt that if he bought me out, another team would be getting me for free,” Okafor said. “But that’s where we stand today, because he waited so long to trade me. There’s nothing else to do. I’m not playing here and at the end of this season, I’m an unrestricted free agent.”
76ers head coach Brett Brown said Okafor is out of the rotation and would have to earn the chance to leap other players ahead of him.
After a promising rookie season in which he averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds per game, Okafor began to fall out of the rotation last season due to injuries and the emergence of Joel Embiid. The team traded their other center Nerlens Noel last season after Noel complained about the lack of playing time.
It’s a tough spot for Okafor. Though his game has flaws — particularly on defence — he’s proven to be a capable scorer when he is on the court. He could ride out the season in Philadelphia, but his future would be impacted by not playing. Alternatively, the Sixers, as Okafor said Colangelo mentioned, don’t want to just buy him out and trade returns likely aren’t very promising right now.
“It could be a buyout, it could be a trade, I just want something to happen rather quickly,” Okafor said.
The options are limited, but there’s no point in delaying the process with both sides so visibly unhappy.
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