The next call Sam Hinkie fields on one of his 23 iPhones could be from Jahlil Okafor, the player who effectively killed Hinkie’s tenure as Sixers GM. Though Okafor’s only 21 years old, the 2015 third overall pick will soon be in Hinkie’s shoes, contemplating a similar question: What’s life like after the Process?
On Tuesday, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Sixers would not pick up Okafor’s fourth-year option. Halloween was the deadline for teams to exercise 2017-18 options for players entering the second or third year of their rookie-scale contracts, meaning that next summer, Okafor will be an unrestricted free agent. Declining his option was a last resort for Philly after failing to deal the big man in consecutive offseasons. There could still be a trade in the works before the deadline, but it’s hard to imagine one happening considering the market over the past two years. Should Okafor come cleanly off the books this summer, the franchise will have an additional $6.3 million for next season instead of whatever assets a trade could’ve garnered. (Apparently none at all.)
The team’s reported decision effectively signaled the end of Okafor’s run with the Sixers, if it hadn’t already been clear. In his first two seasons, the Duke product averaged 14.7 points and six rebounds in 26.5 minutes—production that on the surface doesn’t warrant a complete dismissal. But when you add in his lackadaisical defense and the emergence of clear franchise centerpieces in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, it becomes clear Okafor was no longer in the team’s plans. Essentially, Philadelphia gave up on him before the 2016-17 season ended.
There could be a franchise interested in the 6-foot-11 Okafor, but as The Ringer’s Paolo Uggetti wrote last week, the Sixers openly shopping him has tanked his trade value. To add salt to the wound, the Sixers also announced that they were exercising contract options for Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Justin Anderson. If the towel kids wiping sweat after possessions had NBA contracts, the Sixers probably would have considered them over Okafor to remain with Philly long term, too.
In early October, Okafor told Jordan Brenner of SB Nation that he was questioning his presence in Philadelphia.
“I’m unsure if I’m still on the team,” Okafor said. “Am I really a part of this process? Am I really a part of this culture? That’s why the guys have been out there on social media, but I’ve just kind of been in the dark. I’ll go to a Sixers event, smile, take pictures with the kids and stuff like that, but I’m still thinking, ‘Am I a part of this team?’”
On Tuesday, Okafor finally got an answer.