Thursday, July 21, 2016

Jahlil Okafor Rumors Still Lingering

The Celtics were dominating NBA news circles from the Draft at the end of June through the start of free agency and although that has quieted down since they signed Al Horford and barely missed out on Kevin Durant, Danny Ainge's statement that "We're not done yet," has forced the rumor mill to keep churning.

The names on the rumor mill continue to be Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, and Blake Griffin.  Another name that continues to be consistently spoken, and has been since the trade deadline back in February, is Jahlil Okafor.

Okafor intrigues me.  His stock has dropped in the eyes of many after a so-so rookie year that was limited to just 53 games due to a knee injury and was also marred by a street fight in Boston he was involved in early in the season.  This apparent loss of value may help the Celtics land Okafor and adding a 7-foot, 275-pound center with the ability to score close to the basket would be a major boost to the C's.

Moving from a bad situation in Philadelphia to a contending team in Boston should immediately improve Okafor's game.  He was playing for a team that made no secret of their desire to tank the season in pursuit of getting to draft Ben Simmons and was surrounded by no guards of any significance in his rookie season but still managed to produce 17.5 points per game.  His rebounding (7 per game) and defense do leave a lot to be desired but again, playing with better teammates - especially Horford, who on paper seems like an ideal mentor to Okafor - and for Brad Stevens should ignite Okafor's many talents.

To get Okafor, the Celtics may need to find a third team to make a deal work because I assume that Ainge does not want to get rid of Marcus Smart or the 2017 and 2018 Nets picks for Okafor and the likes of Terry Rozier probably would not be enough to make Philly pull the trigger on a deal.

One potential trade partner is Minnesota.  The Timberwolves are building an exciting young team around Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn, who was their first round pick this year.  The drafting of Dunn does make 25-year-old point guard Ricky Rubio available.

Boston could send center Kelly Olynyk to Minnesota and guards James Young and R.J. Hunter to Philadelphia while adding Okafor, Nik Stauskas, and Robert Covington from Philly.  The 76ers would get Rubio from the Timberwolves and also ship Carl Landry to Minnesota.  The Timberwolves would also receive the first round pick from Memphis (which has some protections added to it) that Boston currently owns.

Minnesota opens up the point guard position for Dunn, adds a good shooting 7-footer in Olynyk, and a veteran forward in Landry who can help them off the bench.  Adding a future first round pick is an added bonus.

The 76ers add the point guard that they desperately need as well as two young wing players that have potential.  Young has done very little in his two years with the Celtics and Hunter did very little in his rookie season but both can shoot the ball and the 76ers need to add shooting.

Boston gets a center to pair with Horford while Covington can help make up for the loss of Evan Turner in free agency and picking up Stauskas helps offset trading their own young unproven shooters to Philadelphia.

A Celtics front court of Okafor and Horford, with Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko off the bench, offers Stevens great versatility.  The C's would have Jae Crowder, Covington, and Jaylen Brown as small forwards who could all also contribute as small ball power forwards.  Their back court of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Smart would remain intact with the promise of second-year point guard Terry Rozier being added to that mix as well.

Okafor may not provide the excitement that a trade for a more established star would but his youth and skills would allow him to grow into being a star in Boston and without having to deal away any core players (I like Olynyk but he's certainly expendable), Ainge would have succeeded in building a contender for 2017 and beyond.

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