The Brooklyn Nets have done it again. General manager Sean Marks executed yet another trade that acquired talent on the cheap. Jahlil Okafor is headed to Kings County. Here’s a closer look at the Jahlil Okafor trade and how it will impact the Nets.
Jahlil Okafor Trade and the Nets: A Closer Look
The Philadelphia 76ers traded center Jahlil Okafor, guard Nik Stauskas, and a second-round draft pick to the Nets for forward/center Trevor Booker. To further accommodate this move, the Nets waived reserve guard and fan favorite Sean Kilpatrick.
This puts an end to an absolute nightmare for Okafor, who fell out of the 76ers’ plans once budding star Joel Embiid became healthy. Okafor, however, never showed great excitement about being in Philadelphia. One can remember the introductory press conference when Okafor simply dropped his new 76ers jersey and left the room upon its conclusion.
Here’s that video, courtesy of ‘The Fumble’:
What do the 76ers receive?
The 76ers get a veteran in his eighth season. Booker is a grinder; he’s not the most offensively skilled but does a little of everything. A scrappy, emotional player, Booker quickly became a fan favorite in Brooklyn, beloved well beyond Flatbush Avenue. Throughout his NBA career, Booker has been nothing but a consummate professional. A strong locker-room presence, Booker provides a young 76ers team with another needed veteran at a much cheaper cost. Remember, the 76ers led by general manager Bryan Colangelo signed veteran free-agent J.J. Redick to a $23 million, one-year contract. Colangelo also signed Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless as veterans. Bringing in Booker also provides another backup to the talented yet fragile star Embiid.
By the numbers, Booker is solid, though not spectacular. Thus far, Booker has appeared in 18 games. He averaged 10.1 points and 6.6 rebounds, shooting 51.4 percent from the field while playing 21.9 minutes per game in Brooklyn this season.
Nets players react to Booker being traded
The reactions of Brooklyn’s players are a testament to what Booker meant to the Nets. Injured point guard Jeremy Lin wrote a heartfelt message about Booker and Kilpatrick:
— Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) December 8, 2017
“It was tough for us,” LeVert said. “Those guys are really good guys as well as good basketball players. I was close to both of them [Booker and Kilpatrick].”
Second-year guard Isaiah Whitehead also tweeted that he’ll miss his now-former teammates:
— Isaiah Whitehead (@IsaiahW_15) December 7, 2017
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson talked about how he broke the news to his players. Atkinson said that he and Marks met individually with each player. Citing the importance of those meetings, Atkinson said, “I felt good about that. Sean and I discussed it and said, ‘Let’s give them the why-why this is good for our future.’ Sometimes the players are left out.”
Brooklyn benefits from this transaction
Okafor is a throwback to centers of a bygone era. Philadelphia drafted Okafor third overall in 2015. At the time, there was a debate as to whether Okafor would be drafted second by the Los Angeles Lakers. Of course, the Lakers ultimately went with point guard D’Angelo Russell, who’s also now a member of the Nets. Okafor was selected to the All-Rookie First Team in 2015-16. But the improved health and emergence of Embiid caused Okafor to lose most of his minutes. Okafor appeared in only 50 games in his sophomore NBA season, which was compounded with knee issues.
During the off-season, Okafor requested to have his contract terminated following months of Colangelo openly trying to trade him. Colangelo refused and further chose not to exercise the fourth year on Okafor’s rookie contract. By not exercising that fourth year, the 76ers placed Okafor in the dubious company of Anthony Bennett and Hasheem Thabeet as the only top-three drafted players not to have the fourth year guaranteed. To add insult to injury, the 76ers exercised options on Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Justin Anderson. Those players all originally signed with the 76ers the same year as Okafor, or after him.
Okafor has many questions to answer in Brooklyn. One such question goes to Okafor’s suitability to the modern game. Okafor low-post skillset, though potent, seems fit to an NBA of 15-25 years ago. Compound that with his noted defensive short-comings and the questions mount. Further to that, there was also a question relating to Okafor’s effort level and dedication. Okafor lost 20 pounds in response to critics before the season’s start.
Stauskas may be seen as merely a throw-in piece to the deal, but he was a lottery selection by the Sacramento Kings in 2014. Unfortunately, Stauskas hasn’t lived up to his draft selection. Now in his fourth season, he’s yet to average double figures in scoring. Billed as a sharp-shooter, Stauskas’ accuracy remains far from impressive. His career three-point percentage is 34.3 percent and he’s yet to make a single three thus far this season.
The key to this deal
General manager Sean Marks said that he and the Nets approached the 76ers about Okafor a while ago, though talks intensified only recently. The key is the ability of the coaching staff to develop talent. Coach Atkinson is highly respected and regarded as one of the NBA’s top development coaches. There is ample evidence to support that. The improvement of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and the emergence of Spencer Dinwiddie are proof of Atkinson’s acumen.
When asked about the fit and adjustment for new players, Marks spoke glowingly of his coaching staff.
“This is about bringing in talent. We’re going to try to do that. [We’re] in that talent-acquisition mode,” Marks said. “And at the same time, I’m going to bet on Kenny [Atkinson] and his staff. Look at what Kenny and his staff have done over the course of the last 18 months with a lot of the guys, the guys who’ve bought in. The coaching staff has done a heck of a job and I expect nothing less than that with the two guys we’re bringing in.”
Believe it or not, a huge aspect of this deal comes down to the draft pick. While a high first-round selection is often invaluable, there is a great value to second-round selections as well. Players like Manu Ginobili, Draymond Green, and Isaiah Thomas were all picked in the second round. The 2019 Knicks second-round pick is expected to be high (most likely in the 30s to the mid-40s range), so Marks took a chance.
For his part, Atkinson is offering no free pass. When asked about Okafor’s playing time, Atkinson pulled no punches. “He’s got to earn it,” Atkinson said. “They’re talented guys, but they’re going to have to earn it. That’s how I operate.”
Marks stood in lock-step with his coach. “There is never a guarantee here,” Marks said. “Kenny and the staff have done a nice job of [saying], ‘You earn it. If you put in the work, you’re going to get it. You’re going to be rewarded for it.’ I think he’s [Okafor is] hungry to show people that he wants to play, and we’re expecting good things from him.”
Putting a bow on this
As the axiom goes, the team that receives the better/best player wins the trade. If there’s any truth to that, then this trade is a tie. Both parties walk away with something. The Nets have traded away a very good player in Booker for two players and pick. Here’s the rub: Booker is almost 30 years old, and he’s on an expiring contract. Okafor (the main attraction) is approaching 22 years old and will become an unrestricted free agent after this season. However, that’s a concern for the future.
Atkinson’s concerns are much more immediate. “These are two very talented offensive players,” Atkinson said. “Like anybody that comes into the program, we need them to defend the ball. That’ll be the challenge for both of them. We need those guys to be two-way players. We’re going to demand it. It’s our job to get those guys to fit into the system. That’s the coach’s job.”
Nets GM Sean Marks continues to work magic as he endeavors to make the Brooklyn Nets respectable. To this end, Marks has acquired the second and third overall picks of the 2015 draft for two expiring contracts (Brook Lopez and Trevor Booker) and a late first-round pick.
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