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Nets trade gives Jahlil Okafor only thing he wanted: A chance to prove he can play

No one knows what kind of player Jahlil Okafor will be with the Brooklyn Nets.

He could be productive and serviceable. Maybe he won’t be.

But at the very least, Okafor gets what he wants: a chance. And he wasn’t getting that with the Philadelphia 76ers who traded him, Nik Stauskas and a 2019 second-round pick to the Nets for Trevor Booker on Thursday.

“This gives him a runaway to show we had can do,” Bill Duffy, Okafor’s agent, told UT Sports. “We’ve only seen a portion of what he’s capable of doing. He’s leaner. He improved his body. He’ll be a lot more effective. I’m excited for him to have this opportunity to get up and down the floor and have an impact.”

The Okafor situation with Philadelphia had festered long enough. His dad even wore a Free Jah t-shirt to a Golden-State-Philadelphia game this season.

The Sixers made it clear that Okafor was not part of their future, and it would’ve suited both sides better had the Sixers traded Okafor before the season began. But Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wasn’t willing to give Okafor away and sought a deal that worked for him, too.

Okafor was buried on the bench, and to his credit, he kept most of his frustration out of the public. Yes, Okafor wanted a buyout or a trade, but he kept the majority of his frustration behind the scenes. He put on a good face despite the lack of playing time – just 25 minutes in two of Philadelphia’s 24 games this season – and was not a locker room problem.

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Duffy’s solid relationship with Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo helped ease a difficult situation. Duffy knew Colangelo was trying to find a trade partner that made sense for Okafor – just as Colangelo did for Duffy client Steve Nash almost 20 years ago.

Following Nash’s 1997-98 season with the Phoenix Suns, he wanted a starting role. But the Suns had Jason Kidd. So Colangelo, who was the Suns GM, worked with Duffy to find a landing spot for Nash. The Suns traded Nash to the Dallas Mavericks where Nash flourished and developed into a star-in-the-making.

Okafor, who turns 22 next week, is in his third season and was the No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft behind Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, who also plays in Brooklyn. It’s too early to dismiss Okafor’s NBA prospects.

“We are excited about the prospects of both Jahlil and Nik, as well as adding another future asset which will aid us in our continued roster development,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said in a news release. “This trade provides us with a good opportunity to bring in two young players who were high picks in recent drafts and give them a chance to succeed in our system.”

Two seasons ago, before the Sixers moved in a direction that did not include Okafor, he averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds and shot 50.8% from the field, and in the restricted area at the rim, he shot 59.8% – four percentage points higher than the league average that season, according to nba.com/stats.

Okafor has offensive skills, especially in the low post, and will need to show he can be a better defender than he was with the Sixers. The question is, is there a place in today’s NBA for a player like Okafor who is a traditional big man in a style that doesn’t always embrace traditional bigs?

At least now, Okafor has a chance to show if there’s a spot for him in the NBA.

Follow UT Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter. 

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