Jahlil Okafor's Agent Reportedly Told the Sixers Not to Draft His Client
That report from Sheridan Hoops’ Joe Kotoch (who was right in his reporting that the Lakers were considering taking D’Angelo Russell), along with others about agents’ dissatisfaction with the Sixers – including Chris Broussard telling Mike and Mike yesterday that some agents were calling the Sixers and telling them not to draft their clients – hints at one of several troubling sentiments the Sixers are fighting.
Whether Jahlil Okafor was actually sad or just looked sad in the moments after being drafted, or whether his agent actually called the Sixers and explicitly told them not to draft Okafor is not the point.* It’s obvious when contrasting the sheer elation on D’Angelo Russell’s face upon learning he was going to basketball Hollywood in Los Angeles (and not Philadelphia) with Okafor’s strange admission that his buddy Joel Embiid “jinxed” him on Wednesday by texting that he would see him Philly, that the Sixers are not a desirable landing spot for a young player, or any player. Example: It’s why K.J. McDaniels negotiated a one-year deal last year and his mom lambasted the Sixers on Twitter.
[Jim: Can’t blame Okafor. Your options are Minnesota (doing a great job building a young team) or the two biggest markets (and franchises that you will probably play with your whole career), and the Sixers.]
Let me say it again: I’m on board with the plan, with whatever Sam Hinkie is doing. I think it’s necessary. But two years in, little has gone right. Sure, the Sixers have three huge talents in Embiid, Noel and Okafor. But you can argue that none of those guys were the team’s top choice going in to draft night. All of that doesn’t mean Hinkie has done a bad job, or even made the wrong picks, but all along there has been a risk associated with going about things this way, and right now, we’re seeing a lot of those risks play out: Missing out on obvious targets Russell and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Wiggins. Embiid’s health is a real concern. Dario Saric is so good that he may benefit from remaining in Europe for two more seasons. Protected draft picks will vest at least a year later than originally thought. We knew this would take a while, but it’s the lack of progress that concerns me, because it’s a lack of progress that leads to all sorts of other headaches.
One of those headaches is rookies and free agents wanting no part of what is clearly a long-term project. Players have short careers, and I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to be here right now. At the moment, and for the next 2-3 years, this is basketball hell. It’s one thing for a player to be drafted by a losing team (that’s the price you pay for being a top draft pick), but typically those teams use their draftees to get better. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s usually the goal. With the Sixers, the goal isn’t clear. There’s a reasonable chance that by Okafor’s fourth year (if his two rookie options get picked up by the Sixers), his team will still be drafting in the lottery. Ditto for Noel and Embiid. That’s why you look for progress. If this is a five-year plan, players can see the light when free agency comes around. If it’s a 6-10-year plan, which the Sixers’ is quickly turning into, it’ll be difficult to re-sign guys like Noel, Embiid and Okafor. And then what? It’s a vicious cycle in some ways, because until you have young, talented players in place who want to be here, you’re not getting impactful free agents. And until young players see that they can play with impactful free agents, you’re not getting young players to stick around.
Much has been made about the losing culture thing – and I think that’s a concern for the Sixers and Brett Brown’s sanity – but the real issue is that it has the potential to stunt the growth of young players. As it stands now, the Sixers have two guards on their roster– Tony Wroten and Isaiah Canaan. Why, on Earth, if you’re Okafor, would you want to be a part of that?
The other concern is the league, agents and other teams. The Sixers have already fought off an effort by the league to change the lottery so teams can’t do what they’re doing. Earlier this week, it was reported that agents had the players association look into the Sixers’ practice of offering four-year, non-guaranteed deals. The Sixers are in their right to do that… but it’s not making any friends amongst the agents they’ll want to work with when it comes time to spend in free agency in 4-5 years. And there’s a real concern that other teams are beginning to freeze out Hinkie and his shenanigans. If the Sixers are going to do anything with all their assets, they’ll need other teams to play along. Last night you got the sense they weren’t willing to do so.
This is all why progress is important. There needs to be patience, yes, and much of what has happened is not Hinkie’s fault. There’s luck involved. But that was always one of the risks with the plan. Ideally, at this point, the Sixers would have two impactful draft picks – active and playing – and a need for someone like Okafor to construct a core with which to go forward. They’re not there yet. Not even close. If I told you two years ago that the Sixers’ top four prospects would be three big men – one of whom has a concerning foot injury – and a European whose best escape plan may be staying in Europe until 2017 and then signing a short, two-year deal with the Sixers, you would not have been happy, or even believed me. The Sixers have assets, but their lack of progress (again, not entirely their fault) has rubbed teams and agents the wrong way… which in turn could lead to a further lack of progress. I hate to do this (because I hate the show), but it’s like Survivor: you can only be ruthless until a point, and then you have to start cooperating and being a real person, or else others will turn on you. You get the sense the NBA community is starting to turn on the Sixers.