Jahlil Okafor not on team plane to Charlotte
If there is an imminent trade involving the Sixers and Jahlil Okafor, there was another possible indicator on Sunday afternoon.
Okafor was not on the team's flight to Charlotte, N.C., for Monday's game against the Hornets at the Spectrum Center.
Teams usually don't play trade targets when a deal is about to happen because of the possibility that the player might get injured. The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 23.
A league source said the earliest a trade can become finalized is Monday morning when NBA lawyers return to the office to review paperwork.
Okafor, 21, also did not play Saturday night when the Sixers beat the Miami Heat at the Wells Fargo Center. The second-year center has been the subject of trade discussions with the New Orleans Pelicans, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, and reportedly the Portland Trail Blazers, among others.
However, a league source said Sunday morning that the Nuggets and Sixers were no longer having discussions about Okafor.
That made sense, considering that the Vertical website reported Sunday that the Nuggets would trade Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first-rounder (from the Memphis Grizzlies) to the Blazers for Mason Plumlee and a second-round pick in 2018.
Okafor posted on Twitter from Chicago on Sunday, fueling speculation that the Bulls are the front-runner to make a deal.
An imminent trade for Okafor is far from surprising. He had been the subject of trade talks shortly after the Sixers selected him third overall in the 2015 draft. The team reportedly came close to a deal to trade him to the Boston Celtics at last season's trade deadline.
"Trade rumors are something that's going to be a part of my life probably for as long as I'm in the NBA," Okafor said last week. "I've been hearing it since I've been in the NBA about being traded."
The Sixers also had opportunities to move Okafor before the 2016 NBA draft. However, they balked after they failed to receive what they perceived to be equal value in offers for Okafor.
Because of his sore right knee and his defensive struggles, it's unlikely that the Sixers are still going to get something of equal value.
Their best bet might be making a deal with the Bulls, who were eager to bring Okafor back to his hometown.
The Bulls want Okafor to provide a scoring threat from the center position. Chicago is looking for him to be a starter and/or have a vital role with the team. The Bulls are even interested in getting a third team involved to make the deal.
The Sixers could try to acquire some of Chicago's young talent in Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, or Denzel Valentine in addition to a draft pick.
Mirotic was held out of Sunday's game at Minnesota because of what the team called back spasms.
On Feb. 6, the Sixers were in the middle of trade discussions with the Pelicans centered on Okafor.
The Sixers reportedly were offered center Alexis Ajinca and a first-round pick in exchange for Okafor. The first-rounder was thought to be for 2018.
With the Pelicans, Okafor would be paired on the front line with Anthony Davis. New Orleans would get the scoring post player it covets. The move also would enable the Pelicans to move NBA all-star Davis back to power forward from the center spot.
Ajinca is someone the Pelicans want to get rid of. The 7-foot-2 center has appeared in one game, for three minutes, since Dec. 23 and has two seasons remaining on his contract.
A team that trades for Okafor must be aware of an injury concern.
He has been dealing with right knee soreness since surgery on March 22, 2016, to repair the meniscus. A CAT scan on March 8 revealed a tear. The injury cost him the final 23 games of his rookie season.