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Sixers lose to Pistons as Okafor trade talk swirls

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Jahlil Okafor showcase tour had somewhat positive results in what could be one of his final - if not the last - games as a 76er.

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Jahlil Okafor showcase tour had somewhat positive results in what could be one of his final - if not the last - games as a 76er.

The center displayed his trademark offensive prowess in Monday's 113-96 loss to the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Okafor finished with a team-high 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting. He was also arguably the most active he has been during his time as a Sixer. Okafor finished with four rebounds and one steal in 25 minutes, 46 seconds. In addition to the small number of rebounds, foul shooting was a negative. He made just 2 of 7 attempts.

Earlier in the day, the Sixers (18-33) were in advanced trade discussions with the New Orleans Pelicans involving Okafor. The Sixers reportedly would receive center Alexis Ajinca and a future first-round pick in exchange for Okafor. The first-rounder is expected to be the 2018 selection.

Obviously, with his participation in Monday night's game, no deal was reached earlier in the day.

"It's trade rumors," Okafor said. "I'm not going to get into all of that. I'm a Sixer night now, and keep doing what I do every day."

But these trade discussions came four days after reported the Chicago Bulls approached the Sixers about a possible trade involving Okafor.

The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 23. There's a chance he could be traded before the deadline, possibly this week.

Okafor missed Saturday's game at the Miami Heat because of right knee soreness. He started Monday because Joel Embiid remained sidelined.

This marked the sixth straight game and ninth out of 10 that Embiid missed since suffering a bone bruise in his left knee on Jan. 20. Sixers coach Brett Brown said he wasn't sure if the standout center will play in Wednesday's home game against the San Antonio Spurs. However, Embiid is in the Sixers' long-term plans.

It's far from that for Okafor.

The Sixers have been shopping him and Nerlens Noel, another center, for some time. Okafor is the one the team is more interested in moving, according to sources. It appears the Sixers may not wait until the deadline to part ways with him.

Don't be surprised if Bryan Colangelo, the team's president of basketball operations, had discussions Monday and will have more discussions with teams interested in Okafor. Colangelo is probably asking those teams if they can put together a package better than the one he received from the Pelicans.

Ersan Ilyasova knows what his teammate is going through. The power forward has been traded four times since June 2015. His advice to Okafor is he can't be emotional about his situation.

"Obviously if you do, it's going to [mess up] your head so bad, you are going to forget about basketball," Ilyasova said. "It's a part of the business."

Ilyasova was traded to the Pistons after spending seven seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks.

"Obviously when I was traded to Detroit, I tried to contribute in a good way and play," he said. "I worked my [butt] off."

Okafor has always said that he's not focused on what he calls "trade rumors." However, he's in a bad situation in Philadelphia. Chicago or New Orleans would be a better fit for him.

With the Pelicans, he would be paired in the front line with Anthony Davis. New Orleans would get the scoring post player it covets. The move would also enable them to move NBA all-star Anthony Davis back to power forward from the center spot.

However, 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.

Meanwhile, Okafor would also provide a scoring threat from the center position for his hometown Bulls. 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. That's because the Sixers don't want to make a trade for what they deem is less than equal value for the third overall pick of the 2015 draft.

But, Okafor continues to publicly say all the right things.

"I'm happy where I am right now," he said. "So we will see what happens. It's all rumors right now. Until it comes true, nothing I can do about it. I'm only going to worry about what I can control."

But as long as he remains a Sixer, Okafor is a glaringly bad fit. That's why he doesn't play on the nights when Embiid plays. The Sixers use him on the nights when Embiid doesn't play to showcase Okafor.

Monday night's matchup went as expected. The Pistons (24-28) built a commanding 26-point lead in the third-quarter of a game more lopsided that the final score indicated.

Reserve forward Dario Saric added 13 points for the Sixers. Robert Covington finished with 11 points in his first game back after missing the previous three with a bruised right hand, and T.J. McConnell had 10 points, seven rebounds, and two assists.

North Philly native Marcus Morris paced the Pistons with 19 points. Andre Drummond had 16 points, 17 rebounds, three steals, one assist, and one block.