Let’s try and sound smart with a prediction: The Bulls are going to trade for Jahlil Okafor this season. Zach Lowe recently made the claim (not the ‘sound smart’ bit, that’s my thing) that the Sixers would move Okafor to either Chicago or Phoenix in his ‘crazy predictions’ piece, but it’s really not that crazy.
It was rumored back during the trade deadline that the Bulls were somewhat interested in Okafor. That rumor was later called ‘overblown’ in other circles, but the Bulls were an entirely different team then. They’re on a PATH, now! And Okafor, though not very athletic and seemingly antithetical to a pace/space Hoiballin’ outfit (the Bulls claim that is a thing, still), is still very young with a solid pedigree.
Mike Schmitz, formerly of DraftExpress and now at ESPN, grouped Okafor with some 2015 draft class members who’ve disappointed.
Okafor came into training camp in great shape and appears slightly more in-tune defensively in preseason play. With that said, he is still a far cry from the franchise center the Sixers were hoping for when they drafted him. Like Kanter, Willy Hernangomez and other shaky defenders, rebounding the ball at a much higher level will make Okafor more playable despite his limitations in pick-and-roll and as a rim protector. Also, if he can at least provide some spacing as a short roll midrange shooter, capable passer on the move, more reliable dribble-handoff threat and straight-line driver with his fairly unique combination of agility and strength, Okafor will be able to carve out a role in the NBA.
Okafor has never really fit in with the Sixers, you can read a lot more at this recent SBNation feature on him. And very recently, Philadelphia has committed a lot to Joel Embiid, further signalling that they aren’t going to prioritize either minutes or money to Okafor.
Okafor has a rookie-scale team option for $6.3m next season, the decision on that is October 31st. While the Sixers are mindful of creating maximum cap space next offseason, that still is likely to be picked up. It’s debatable whether that option makes him more or less tradeable. The Bulls also want
a low payroll cap space going forward, but the cost-certainty of a young former lottery pick may be desirable. They’d have to trade Robin Lopez, either as part of an Okafor trade or at least near-simultaneously, but having Okafor and Cristiano Felicio is a logical allocation of resources to the center position.
And that’s the rationale for figuring the Bulls will take the chance. There is merit to a ‘secondary draft’, giving second chances to young players who didn’t work out with their drafted teams. It has looked to have not worked out with Cameron Payne. It remains to be seen with Kris Dunn.
But with the Bulls, the problem isn’t the method of player acquisition as much as it’s their scouting. Especially pro scouting, as with their targeted players they seemingly ignore what they’ve done at this level and instead rely on their old draft board.
Which is further reason they will take a chance on Okafor. It’s not necessarily a bad gambit, and thus can be easily sold to fans. But there’s no faith that they’d pursue it because of something they’ve scouted in the player. It’ll be because he was once a top-3 pick in the draft, he’s from Chicago, and Doug Collins will put in ‘a word for the kid’ or something.