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Farewell, Mostly Vegan Jah

Two of Philadelphia’s native sons talk out their feelings about Jahlil Okafor finally departing the Sixers for his long-awaited second chance with the Brooklyn Nets

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Jahlil Okafor’s long national nightmare is over! After being buried on the 76ers’ bench virtually all season, Okafor, the no. 3 overall pick in 2015, was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for veteran big man Trevor Booker, according to multiple reports. The Sixers will also send a 2019 second-round pick (via the Knicks) and Nik “Stauskas?!” Stauskas to Brooklyn in the exchange.

The trade is a sigh of relief for Okafor, who has been stuck in a staring contest with the organization that drafted him ever since they declined their team option for him next season. For Sixers fans, the feeling is … mixed. Two of The Ringer’s favorite Philadelphians, staff writers Michael Baumann and John Gonzalez, took to Slack to work out their emotions on Okafor, the Sam Hinkie era, and Philly’s vegan scene.

Michael Baumann: I guess my first reaction is that this isn’t as cathartic as I’d hoped it would be.

John Gonzalez: Yeah. Me too. I’m having mixed emotions. On the one hand, they moved Jah. Which is good. It’s good for him, mostly. And it’s something that the fan base has wanted. BUT. I don’t quite get the deal here.

The ask for Jah went from a first-round pick last year, to a second-round pick this year, to GIVING UP a second-round pick and Stauskas this year just to move him. Why not just cut Jah, blame Hinkie, keep the pick, and move on?

Baumann: I’ve been waiting for Okafor to get traded since the night he was drafted, and at the trade deadline last season we were all still so stung by Hinkie getting forced out that all I can remember is rage. But now the Sixers are good and fun and Joel Embiid is relatively healthy, so it just sort of feels anticlimactic.

“Cut Jah, blame Hinkie” has been my stance from the day Bryan Colangelo took over. I’ve been broadly pleased with him as GM, but hanging on to Okafor was such an optics move, like he couldn’t trade the no. 3 pick for relatively little, no matter how bad Okafor was, and even though he didn’t make the pick.

Which on one level I get, because Sixers fans were crowing about getting Stauskas from Sacramento in part because of his draft position, and now he’s headed to Brooklyn, too, after never getting off the bench all season.

Gonzalez: That’s my point exactly. This feels like Bryan trying to show out. “Look, I just did the impossible. I just moved Jah when everyone told me I couldn’t. And I did it.”

I’m no Stauskas fan. They can have him. And Booker is … fine. He’s fine. But is giving up the pick worth adding Booker? Maybe. I guess. But the easier path here is the one everyone outlined: just cut Jah loose and be done with it.

Baumann: So it turns out that our perception is completely colored by how close we are to the Process, just not in the way I’d have thought.

Gonzalez: That’s probably fair.

Baumann: I think where you and I disagree is I don’t care about the second-rounder at all. They sold, like, three of them on draft night, and how many second-rounders turn out to be better than Trevor Booker?

Gonzalez: In a vacuum, I suppose I don’t either. But I’m just not as high on Booker. He’s a league-average big on a team that already has quite a few frontcourt players. Like I said, he’s fine.

Baumann: Second-rounders are trade chips that exist because there’s no such thing as a Double-A reliever in basketball and sometimes there’s just nothing else to trade.

Gonzalez: I think of them more as dart throws at a target really far away. Most times you miss completely. Every now and again, on rare occasions, you hit. In theory, I like the idea of throwing the dart.

Baumann: Booker’s better than Amir Johnson, right? That’s what I imagine his role would be, though it once again raises the question of why Johnson got $11 million for chemistry.

What a Process Truster answer.

Gonzalez: Yeah. He can have Amir’s minutes. That’s fine, too. I just think it’s a lot of commotion to offload Jah and bring in a guy who is better than Amir but not so much better that we can expect some significant jump.

My main thing here is I would have just cut Jah a while ago.

Baumann: Well, sure.

Gonzalez: Let the man live.

Can we also talk about Jah and D’Angelo Russell in Brooklyn together? The Nets are the Island of Misfit NBA Toys.

Baumann: How long until Mario Hezonja is dropping 17 a night there?

Gonzalez: I want that. I want all of it.

It’s crazy to think back to that draft, when we were all hoping that the Lakers would take Jah and D’Angelo would fall to the third pick. And now they’ve both been exiled.

Baumann: An Okafor-for-Hezonja deal was my pipe dream. Just hit do-over on the 2015 draft.

Gonzalez: That would have been great. I loved Hezonja. (“Let Messi come to see me.”)

Probably less exciting for the Magic, though.

Baumann: You don’t think Okafor would’ve been a perfect fit? An offensive game that hasn’t been fashionable since 1998 would be perfect for Orlando. I’ve always thought Okafor moved with a certain Central Florida languidity. Like having swamp-ass on the treadmill.

Gonzalez: Excellent point. I stand corrected. I wish that had happened just to give us one more thing to mock Kevin Clark about.

Baumann: I’m not happy until Kevin’s not happy.

Gonzalez: His misery pleases me.

Baumann: So here’s another thing. I find myself wanting to tie Okafor’s departure back to the Hinkie era and frame the conversation in terms of Hinkie vs. Colangelo, but more because I’ve been winding up for that take for two years than because I actually believe it.

Are we past relitigating Sam Hinkie every time the Sixers do something interesting?

Gonzalez: I don’t think we’ll ever stop tying present-day Sixers moves to past Hinkie decisions. It is the way of our world.

And, besides, the Okafor pick was a big miss by Sam. Inarguably his most significant mistake. That’s worth noting.

Which brings me to something else. Can we discuss what we think Jah can actually be now that he’s not collecting dust at the end of the Sixers’ bench? What’s his possible role with the Nets or in the NBA in general moving forward?

Baumann: So the problem to me is not that he’s a one-way player, it’s that he has to have the ball and play close to the basket on offense, and he’s not fast enough to guard anyone but centers, so you need to be creative about how you hide him on defense.

And I just don’t know if what you get as a bench big is worth going through that trouble, particularly if he does that thing that he did for long stretches as a rookie where he gets the ball and just goes to sleep.

So much of the hype coming out of Duke was about his passing, and he just hasn’t. It’s not that he can’t, but that he hasn’t.

Gonzalez: Yeah, he’s a ball-movement killer. That is one of the most frustrating things about him. Ball goes in. Ball does not come out. Many dribbles. Many moves. Toss up a shot at the hoop. Lumber back. Do not play defense. Repeat.

Otherwise, he’s really good.

Baumann: No, the most frustrating thing about him is that it’s mystifying how you can be that big and be that bad a rebounder. He’s my least favorite Sixer since Kevin Ollie.

Gonzalez: That’s mean … to Kevin Ollie.

Baumann: Turns out Kevin Ollie can coach; maybe Jah can too.

Gonzalez: If not, I see a future for him as a vegan restaurateur. Big Jah’s Cashew Cheese Emporium.

Baumann: Well, he’s going the wrong way if that’s his angle. Brooklyn’s got the reputation for being full of crunchy people but apparently Philadelphia’s got a thriving vegan/vegetarian scene.

Or so I’ve been told. I haven’t been home in almost a year and haven’t eaten vegetables in at least that long.

Gonzalez: You’re the anti-Popeye.

Baumann: Been getting that a lot since I quit smoking a pipe.

So wait, are we no longer holding onto the hope that Jah’s a Change of Scenery Guy?

Gonzalez: Of course we are. His proponents will point out that he’s forever 19 and can easily average 20 and 10.

Let’s end on this. Finish this for me: In five years, Jah will be …

Baumann: Backing up Ante Tomic at Barcelona.

Gonzalez: That’s great news! Barcelona is a lovely city.

Baumann: Great vegan food.