Jahlil Okafor Detailed His Battle With The Sixers Over Wanting A Buyout

Jahlil Okafor’s time playing for the Philadelphia 76ers is essentially over. The former No. 3 overall pick has appeared in one game so far this season (getting 10 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes) and on Tuesday the Sixers declined to pick up his fourth year option, meaning he will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Despite continued efforts, Philly has yet to find a suitable trade package for Okafor, despite Okafor and his agent insisting deals have been on the table and the Sixers have just not been willing to take so little for him. By declining the team’s option on Okafor, they make his value even worse on the trade market as a team trading for him wouldn’t have any control over him beyond this year.

The situation is tense and it’s unfortunate for Okafor, who simply wants to find somewhere to play. After reports swirled overnight about him potential asking for a buyout, the young center confirmed that he had requested a buyout from the team but has, to this point, been denied that by Bryan Colangelo and the Philadelphia front office. Okafor spoke candidly on Wednesday during Sixers practice about his situation, wanting a buyout or a trade sooner than later, and his desire to get on the court and prove himself, something he knows he won’t get to do with the Sixers.

Okafor explained that he’s been battling with the front office over the buyout, because they don’t want to let a team get him “for free,” but at the same time he knows the deals that will be out there on the trade market for him after declining his deal aren’t going to be very good either, as he told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jessica Camerato.

“He 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 you waited so long to trade me. There’s nothing else to do. I’m not playing here and at the end of the season, I’m an unrestricted free agent. So I want to get on the court and play and produce.”

It’s a strange situation to have a young player in such a position with his team, especially when he has produced such solid raw numbers when he’s been on the court over the first two years of his career. There are certainly issues with Okafor’s defense and questions about whether the NBA has evolved past the point of a plodding center like him being able to be a big part of a winning team. However, in 26.4 minutes per game over his career, he’s averaging 14.7 points and six rebounds per game in 104 appearances.

No, he doesn’t have the value the Sixers would like out of someone taken third overall, but some team will try and bring him in to see if a team embracing him and letting him see the floor can energize him and make him a useful piece. He’s clearly not going to be a dominant big man like we thought when there was genuine debate between him and Karl-Anthony Towns in the 2015 draft, but it’s not out of the question that he could carve out a bench role somewhere as a big that packs offensive punch on a second unit.

His frustration is evident with the Sixers’ front office and how they’ve handled his situation. He notes they waited too long to trade him, questioned whether Colangelo cares that this is his career and his livelihood on the line, and pleaded for them to trade him or buy him out as an appeal to the personal side of this beyond the business side.

“I’ve tried to be professional,” Okafor said. “I’m going to continue to be professional. But at some point, I have to defend myself and this is my career. I’m not sure he (Colangelo) cares about that. I think that’s kind of evident at this point. I understand it’s a business and you’re going to do what’s best for the organization, but as people, from a personal level, you would hope, ‘OK, let’s get Jah out of here, let him go play somewhere,’ because I’m 21, I’m healthy, I’m trying to get on the right path in my career.”

Okafor’s frustration is more than understandable, especially knowing that if they can’t move him by the deadline he’s going to walk for free anyways, so why not extend him the courtesy of giving him a chance to prove himself as he enters a free agency summer.