Hayes: It's time for Jahlil Okafor and his empty chest cavity to be gone

Hayes: It's time for Jahlil Okafor and his empty chest cavity to be gone

Hayes: It's time for Jahlil Okafor and his empty chest cavity to be gone

As the Sixers peddle Jahlil Okafor through the trade deadline Thursday, they must be grappling with the reality that, no matter how talented Okafor is, and no matter how leery they are of selling Joel Embiid’s insurance policy, one constant remains:

Okafor does not want to be in Philadelphia.

He never has. He never will. He doesn’t fit, and he knows it. He’s a true Hinkie product: He’s tanking himself.

This is a tough-guy city that revels in its Rocky Balboa persona. Dr. J choked Larry Bird. Allen Iverson took on Dennis Rodman. Charles Barkley fought Bill Laimbeer (and, for other towns, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Oakley).

Okafor fights punks on Boston streets. He will dunk on Rudy Gobert on consecutive possessions then disappear for 10 minutes, or 10 days. More and more, he plays like he’s made of porcelain, with all the backbone of gefilte fish.

You can’t fake passion; not in Philly, anyway. Okafor isn’t even trying. Maybe he’d try in Indiana or Sacramento or Boston or his sweet home, Chicago. They’re calling, so they believe Jah might blossom. Good luck.

Okafor didn’t want to be a Sixer in 2015, when, fresh off winning an NCAA title, he slipped from No. 1 to No. 3 and met the NBA on draft night looking like he’d just tasted … well, gefilte fish.

He didn’t want to be a Sixer as a rookie, watching No. 1 pick Karl Anthony Towns blossom into Rookie of the Year in Minnesota and No. 4 pick Kristaps Porzingis earn the nickname “The Unicorn” in Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, Okafor and the Sixers started 1-30. His frustrations boiled over into various nocturnal misadventures and earned him a two-game suspension. Yeah, good times.

He certainly doesn’t want to be a Sixer now. He’s the understudy to Embiid, the freakish athlete who anointed himself “The Process.” He’s the complete opposite of popular third center Nerlens Noel, whose fast-twitch game makes Okafor look like the guy at the Y who wears headbands, wristbands and tube socks.

It is painfully obvious and excruciating to watch: How he refuses to close out on defense, how he declines to fight for rebounds, how he retreats in the face of the opposition. It’s not that Okafor cannot close out, or rebound, or protect the rim. He simply doesn’t.

Why? More and more, it looks as if he’s afraid of getting hurt.

Embiid dives into the stands. Noel hits the deck as if a loose ball is raw meat. Okafor? He takes whatever comes his way.

Can you blame him? This is a business, and he’s his only commodity. He is ensuring maximum earning capacity for his next contract, the big one that every rookie sees on the horizon four or five years into his career. Okafor missed the last 23 games of his rookie season to knee surgery. Another injury, and he’ll be flagged as fragile, which is even worse than being flagged as indifferent.

So, enough. Let him go.

Don’t get trader’s remorse at the last minute, enchanted by his elegant offensive skills. Don’t fall in love all over again with his big frame. He has exceptional talent and perfect size, but Philadelphia scorns the Bobby Abreus and James van Riemsdyks. They aren’t bad guys, and Okafor isn’t a bad guy, but if you’re not going hard into the corner then you don’t belong in Philly, pal. Okafor can take his one-dimensional game and his empty chest cavity and make his big money somewhere else.

Maybe Okafor won’t steal money at his next stop. Maybe, wherever he lands, he will play hard for 35 minutes every night. Maybe he’ll average double digits in rebounds, which he is capable of but which would be alarming. He has hit double digits just twice in 38 games this season, 22 of them starts. That’s the worst among the Sixers’ frontcourt players who frequently start. Ersan Ilyasova and Embiid have done it nine times apiece; Robert Covington, seven; Dario Saric, five.

Maybe there’s a lion inside that lamb’s clothing. Maybe Okafor just needs a change of environment to bring it out.

It’s time to find out.

More Coverage

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Published at Wed, 22 Feb 2017 17:32:35 +0000

Categories: Sixers

About Author