Sixers reject Jahlil Okafor's buyout request, but he desperately wants out
"At some point," the center said. "I have to defend myself, and this is my career."
Jahlil Okafor wants a speedy divorce from the 76ers and won't be getting it without compensation.
The reserve center told the team's president of basketball operations, Bryan Colangelo, on Tuesday that he wanted to be bought out of his contract. That came after the Sixers declined to pick up Okafor's contract for the 2018-19 season. The Sixers, however, appear unwilling to let the 21-year-old center, who has played only one game this season, just walk out the door without getting anything in return.
"Bryan didn't think [a buyout] would be a great idea," Okafor said Wednesday, "because he said he would be giving me away to a team for free. But that's pretty much where we stand right now."
Colangelo declined comment.
Stymied on the buyout, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft wants to be traded as soon as possible. The Sixers, however, aren't going to trade him for less than what they deem is equal value. And even though Okafor is finally healthy, his trade value isn't very high because he has been out of the team's rotation.
"I didn't expect Nov. 1 to hit [and] I would be here," he said. "That's why these past few weeks when [reporters] ask me questions about the rotation and stuff like that, I've been calm because I didn't think I would still be here today. I didn't think that Bryan would keep me, honestly.
"But here I am Nov. 1. I'm still here and looking to play somewhere. I'm 21, I'm healthy, and I'm trying to get on the court."
The Sixers and Okafor's agent, Billy Duffy, have been in constant contact with each other and with potential trade partners, trying to work out a deal. According to sources, the Boston Celtics have expressed the most interest in Okafor. Knowing the Sixers don't have long-term plans for him, the Celtics aren't willing to give up much, though.
Boston is hoping the Sixers buy out Okafor's contract, the sources said. The Celtics were awarded an $8.4 million injury exception to fill the void caused by Gordon Hayward's season-ending injury. The Sixers know that, and they don't want to allow their Atlantic Division rival, with whom they've been negotiating, to get Okafor without giving up anything.
Knowing he's not in their long-term plans, the Sixers passed on keeping him past this season, declining his fourth-year option. Okafor would have earned $6.3 million in his fourth year, if the option had been picked up. The decision allows the Sixers to free up that sum from next season's salary-cap space.
The Sixers have been unable to trade Okafor on their terms for more than two seasons. Some squads have even asked for an additional player or a draft pick to take Okafor off the Sixers' hands.
Okafor has also been the subject of trade discussions with the New Orleans Pelicans, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, and reportedly the Portland Trail Blazers, among others. The Phoenix Suns have also expressed interest.
At one point, it appeared that the Sixers had a trade agreed upon last season.
They held him out of a home game against the Miami Heat on Feb. 11 because they believed a deal was imminent. Teams usually don't play trade targets when a deal is about to happen because of the possibility that the player might get injured.
Sixers coach Bret Brown even walked into the media room after the game to announce that a deal was done.
The next day, Okafor was not on the team's flight to Charlotte, N.C., for the Feb. 13 game against the Hornets. However, he rejoined the team on Feb. 14 after the deal wasn't finalized.
"That was true," Brown said of the deal. "Then it didn't work out and so he came back in. He's experienced a lot since he has been here. He's a good person. He is a talent and I'm going to continue to coach him until somebody tells me I'm not."
Okafor's sore right knee and past off-court incidents lowered the trade value expected of a third overall pick.
"But at the same time, that's what teams were offering," he said of Colangelo's negotiations. "Me and my agent started getting the hint they weren't going to offer more. So it was whether you were going to make a move on it or not, and you waited too long and now I'm here today."
Okafor said Colangelo is the only front-office person he spoke to about a buyout. Now he's on the end of the bench in what turned out to a contract year.
"This is my life," Okafor said. "This is my career and I'm not getting an opportunity here, which is fine. The team looks great and I'm not a part of that. I want the team to do great things, but at the same time I want to play."
Okafor is frustrated partly because, unlike Nerlens Noel, he remained a team player even with the Sixers being overcrowded at center. He repeatedly told the media how happy he was to be a Sixer even though he was frustrated inside. Okafor thought the Sixers would reward him for being a good sport by trading him.
Noel took a completely different approach, publicly criticizing the organization. "It worked out for him," Okafor said. The Sixers traded Noel to the Dallas Mavericks in February.
"I tried to do everything the right way," Okafor said. "I tried to be professional; I will continue to be professional. But at some point, I have to defend myself, and this is my career. I'm not sure if [Colangelo] cares about that. I think that's evident at this point."
Okafor said he understands that this a business and that Colangelo has to do what's best for the organization.
"But at some point, as people, on a personal level, you would hope, let's get Jah out of here," Okafor said. "Let him go play somewhere because I'm 21. I'm healthy. I'm trying to get on the right path of my career."