The Boston Celtics remain a rumored destination for disgruntled big man Jahlil Okafor. Here’s why trading for him would be a bad idea.
It’s easy to understand why the Philadelphia 76ers are shopping Okafor. Once a highly regarded prospect, the Sixers drafted him third overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. But Okafor fell behind more versatile front-court talents Joel Embiid and Dario Saric last season, which makes him available to a team like the Boston Celtics.
This season, despite Embiid’s minute restrictions and an injured Richaun Holmes, Okafor has appeared in just two games.
Yet the Sixers don’t want to simply release Okafor, preferring to recoup something on their considerable investment besides cap space. They’re also wary of Okafor joining a team they consider an East rival, such as the Celtics.
And while the Celtics may covet the 6’11” Okafor, they aren’t alone in their regard for the big man. A rogue’s gallery of contenders and pretenders have reported interest in acquiring Okafor, though given his eminent availability, one wonders how much is smoke and how much is flame.
If the interest around the league is genuine, the Celtics would have to offer something of value to acquire Okafor. The Sixers have asked for a first-round pick in the past, but it’s doubtful any team would surrender one now. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski suggests they may settle for a second-round pick, but Semi Ojeleye is proof that such picks should not be surrendered lightly.
At this point, Okafor is, as The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn notes, little more than a long-term project. Those are the type of players you stash in the G League in the hopes of striking gold. You don’t surrender genuine assets to acquire them.
That said, even if GM Danny Ainge believes in Okafor’s talent, he may not be a fit for Coach Brad Stevens’ defense-first approach. Referring to the early-season contributions of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, WEEI’s Josue Pavon notes:
[…] it’s Stevens’ system that’s propelled the youngsters’ development. The ‘defense will lead to offense’ approach has not only elevated the Celtics into being the top defensive team in the league, but has led to offensive production from the starters to the second unit, too.
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Okafor is, to put it kindly, not known for his defense. The fact it’s his effort rather than his skill that is questionable here is cold comfort. Though it’s fair to note that Kyrie Irving came to Boston with questions about his defense as well. That Irving is now receiving accolades for his defense may offer hope that Okafor could likewise improve.
But truth is, aside from his ability to score from the low post, Okafor simply doesn’t bring much else to the table. He isn’t a rim protector. In spite of his size, he’s not much of rebounder. He offers no shooting range and isn’t an adept passer. Simply put, Okafor may no longer be difference maker in today’s pace-and-space NBA.
Further, Okafor is disgruntled for a reason: he wants to play. That’s not going to happen in Philadelphia. And, given the team’s early success following Ainge’s blueprint for versatile, positionless basketball, it won’t happen in Boston either. The potential for disrupting the Boston Celtics chemistry seems greater than any perceived gains Okafar might provide on the court.
Given their big man rotation consists primarily of 31-year-old Al Horford and 30-year-old Aron Baynes and the, thus far, limited contributions of Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele, there is clearly room on the Celtics roster for a young big with potential.
It’s just as clear, however, that young big should not be Jahlil Okafor.