The Philadelphia 76ers need to trade a big man at some point, that much has been made clear by just about everyone. With that said, who needs to be traded has now become the big question.
Some fans have claimed Nerlens Noel will never be good enough offensively to rely on. Other have pointed to Jahlil Okafor’s flaws on the defensive end and his lack of effort to protect the rim. A third group emerged this year that wants the Sixers to trade both.
I have, since Okafor came into the league, mostly been in the camp of wanting to keep Okafor. I really liked the things he was able to do on the offensive end. His ball handling was encouraging, his free-throw shooting vastly improved when he came into the NBA, and he seemed to be able to put a lot of the league’s best defenders on skates with his post moves.
That said, today, it’s looking like relying on trading Okafor is the safest thing to do at this point.
Bryan Colangelo has been adamant that he will not make a trade if it doesn’t result in good value for the Sixers. Right now, the big men are not bringing in good value for the Sixers because the Sixers’ need to move a big man has been broadcasted across the NBA airwaves so much. Teams know the Sixers need to move a big, and therefore can use that to their advantage when bartering.
Part of that need to move a big now is because of the impending doom that seems to be on its way this summer when Nerlens Noel is an unrestricted free agent. Noel will undoubtedly want more money, and being the rim protecter that he is, will likely get offered more money from a fair amount of teams around the league. What this means for the Sixers is that in order to keep him, they will have to match offers extended to him. If not, they’ll watch him walk, and they’ll lose one of their lottery pick big men without anything in return — something Colangelo seems to be very much against.
But if the Sixers count on trading Okfaor, the rush and the need to make a trade is suddenly relieved quite a bit.
Okafor is a talent that is hard to sell in the NBA right now, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have value. As much as Noel defenders have scoffed at Okafor being nothing special in the NBA, that’s simply not true. If you pair Okafor with a certain type of player in the frontcourt, he has the ability to be really effective.
And let’s not act like Noel doesn’t need a certain type of player running the backcourt to be effective on offense. That said, Noel is the best player to be paired with Joel Embiid, the Sixers incredibly valuable and talented big man rookie, if Embiid does ever have to be paired with another big man.
With Okafor still having two years on his rookie deal after this season, the Sixers have him on contract for a very low price. This allows them to shop him around the league and not rush to making a deal, therefore increasing the probability that they get a good trade value for him.
If the Sixers plan on trading Okafor, they don’t have to move him right away. They should still look to move him as soon as possible — a player that has a contract expiring sooner than later has less apparent value in a trade — but there’s no urgency like there is with Noel.
The rush around the Sixers organization seems to be, “Noel is a free agent soon! We need to trade someone to decide if we should pay him!”
Settling on moving Okafor at some point — not necessarily this season — solves that rush and that sense of urgency. The Sixers can go ahead and pay Noel the money he’s due this offseason — thus making him a much more happy camper than he has been this season — and look towards moving Okafor’s potentially very valuable contract at some point next season or this offseason — potentially during the draft, even, which would be before the team extends Noel officially.
Counting on trading Okafor gives the Sixers some time to work with, and answers a few big questions for the team. While it may not be the most pleasant solution for the Sixers, it is a solution that allows them to take a step back and breathe.