Right after the 2016 NBA trade deadline, Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge revealed in a radio interview that he had offered up the team's highest draft pick, the Brooklyn Nets 2016 unprotected first, for a mystery player later revealed via Boston Herald sources as Sixers power forward Jahlil Okafor.
At the time the deal made plenty of sense for the Celtics, while simultaneously making no sense for the Sixers whatsoever. The uncertainty of where the pick would land was exactly why Ainge was willing to trade it back in February, but Philadelphia moving Okafor (who would probably be the top pick if he were in this draft class) for a selection that had a chance to be fifth or sixth overall was a hard pill to swallow.
But now that Boston knows they'll be picking third overall, likely missing out on Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram could have Ainge reaching back out about Okafor's availability.
CSN New England's Gary Tanguay was on WIP's Morning Show Thursday and said the Celtics would "absolutely" accept a trade of Okafor for the third pick, and Bill Simmons also thinks the deal will get done at some point.
If the Sixers do select Ben Simmons with the first overall pick, Philadelphia already has a loaded front court with Okafor, Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Carl Landry, Jerami Grant and Richaun Holmes, with Dario Saric likely on the way. Getting Landry minutes on this team is pretty unimportant going forward, and Holmes and Grant are likely getting squeezed out of playing time here by default, an unfortunate downside to this logjam.
Even with those three out of the picture, getting Simmons, Okafor, Embiid, Noel and Saric enough minutes while also finding working pairings will certainly be a struggle, which in turn makes evaluating those guys all the more difficult. Simmons can certainly handle some minutes at the point, but defenses will just clog the paint because of his shooting deficiencies. He's most naturally suited in the post, where he can still showcase his skills as a playmaker.
If the Sixers do end up getting rid of Okafor, it does make a foggy situation a whole lot clearer. His defensive struggles make him a difficult pair with either Saric or Simmons. Playing him with Noel again doesn't make a ton of sense unless Okafor is morphing his game into a solid pick-and-pop, catch-and-shoot guy that can knock down mid-range jumpers without stopping the flow of the offense and clogging the paint. The same could be said with a Embiid-Okafor pairing.
While I am somewhat intrigued by seeing what Okafor can do with a little more talent on the roster, he's still a tough guy to build around. I think he's still best suited in a situation where a team can go four-out while allowing him to work the paint with his plethora of post moves, and who knows when Philadelphia will have the pieces in place to make that happen. On the other hand, Boston may have the personnel to be able to run that.
In regards to the third pick, my interest in moving that selection is obviously going to revolve around who the Sixers would target there, something we obviously wouldn't know until after the pick was made. I would be very intrigued by taking Kentucky's Jamal Murray, a lights out catch-and-shoot two guard that I think will be capable of improving his ball handling skills. Even Croatian youngster Dragan Bender would pique my interests. Although you're adding another power forward to the mix, this is one with some serious range who becomes a natural fit next to Embiid or Noel. Down the line, you could even consider a Bender-Simmons front court as the team's way of combatting smaller lineups. Taking Kris Dunn would still be ill-advised. A point guard with limited shooting range and a high turnover rate could be a disaster on this team, and I don't think there's a ton separating him from guys like Wade Baldwin, Demetrius Jackson and Tyler Ulis.
Furthermore, I don't think the third pick alone is enough for the 20-year-old Okafor. That's selling pretty low based off off-court problems and a bad fit. Philadelphia doesn't necessarily have to move him. Nerlens Noel's contract is expiring before the 2017-18 season with few whispers of an extension at the moment. Although Noel and Okafor play two totally different roles, the Sixers could value Okafor's offensive contribution and possible upside more than Noel's defensive prowess, whether right or wrong. Now if Boston was willing to part with Marcus Smart as well (which two CSN New England analysts have proposed), then I'm all over it. I'm not a huge Smart fan, but at the very least he gives you quality defensive guard. I certainly don't like him in a starting role, but he would fill in nicely off the bench. Otherwise, Boston isn't going to part with most of their roster, and I have zero interest in Terry Rozier or R.J. Hunter.
Shipping Okafor to Boston is still reasonable for them, but Philadelphia has to contemplate their willingness to move on from him after one season, as well as the worth of that third pick. Especially considering Philadelphia has a general manager looking to acquire experienced players instead of picks, a trade here doesn't feel as obvious as it may seem to those in New England.