PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia 76ers traded Jahlil Okafor on Thursday night.
It will be tough to tell he’s gone.
Philadelphia sent the No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft, forward Nik Stauskas and a 2019 second-round draft pick to the Brooklyn Nets for veteran big man Trevor Booker. The 6-foot-10 Okafor had played in just two games this season.
“I’m sure it’s a relief for Jahlil,” 76ers President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo said before Philadelphia hosted the Los Angeles Lakers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Neither Okafor nor Stauskas was at the arena Thursday.
Okafor arrived in Philadelphia to great fanfare 21/2 years ago. The 76ers selected him one spot ahead of New York Knicks standout Kristaps Porzingis. Okafor was one of the top draft picks the 76ers acquired by sacrificing wins as part of the team’s rebuilding plan nicknamed The Process.
Philadelphia finished 18-64 the season before they picked Okafor.
Sixers coach Brett Brown said Thursday it wasn’t a relief to see Okafor gone.
“It’s more excitement,” Brown said. “He’s good people. I wouldn’t say there’s regrets. There’s disappointment. We all went through a lot together.”
Okafor played in 53 of 82 games and averaged 17.5 points as a rookie. But he struggled defensively and Brown often benched him late in games because of that. Okafor battled a knee injury and played in just 50 games last season, and his scoring average dropped to 11.8 points.
Okafor turned to a vegan diet and looked much thinner this season. But giving up cheeseburgers didn’t earn him any playing time.
Brown buried him on the bench. Okafor probably could have given the 76ers’ second unit an offensive boost, but he didn’t even get a chance to do that. Some Okafor fans started a “Free Jah” movement on social media. Colangelo said he a deal to trade Okafor that fell apart last season.
“I’m the coach,” Brown said. “I made the decisions that I made. I wish him well. I’m happy for Jahlil and Nik. I think they’re going to a good situation.”
The 6-foot-6 Stauskas is another player who has never quite found his way in the NBA. The Nets will be his third team. The Sacramento Kings selected him with the eighth pick in the 2014 draft. Philadelphia acquired him in a trade with the Kings in summer 2015.
Stauskas, 24, showed flashes but never consistently shot well. He appeared in just six games this season.
“I look at Nik in the similar sort of spirit that I look at Jahlil,” Brown said. “He’s good people. He loves basketball, and we wish him well.”
Booker, 30, is in his eighth NBA season. He’s averaged seven points and 5.6 rebounds in 464 career NBA games. Brown said it could be tough to get Booker minutes in the 76ers’ nine-man rotation.
“You can never have enough (big men),” Brown said. “He’s a veteran that knows how to play when called upon. When his time comes, he will deliver. There’s a level of toughness and versatility.”
For the young 76ers, it was tough to say goodbye to two of their teammates. Stauskas was a groomsman in point guard T.J. McConnell’s September wedding. Okafor attended the wedding.
“You build relationships with guys,” McConnell said. “I love those guys to death. I’m going to miss them.”
One of the reasons Okafor didn’t play was the emergence of center Joel Embiid as an NBA star. Embiid showed his trademark sense of humor when discussing the deal with reporters.
“We play (the Nets) four times a year,” he said. “I told (Okafor) I’m going to kick his (butt).”
The Sixers will play at Brooklyn Jan. 31 and March 11 and will host the Nets on March 16 and April 3.
The Nets began Thursday with a 9-14 record, tied for 12th in the 15-team Eastern Conference.
For Stauskas and Okafor, the trade gives them a chance to resuscitate their career. Both are in contract years.
The 76ers, who took a 13-10 record into Thursday’s game, probably overpaid to acquire Booker. But the deal gets rid of a distraction. As long as Okafor remained a 76er, he was a reminder of a part of The Process that went awry.
“It was time to move on,” Colangelo said, “turn the page.”