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It’s A New Day: Jahlil Okafor’s Same Old Story

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NBA: Preseason-Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers aren’t losers anymore. The bandwagon is overflowing. Multiple potential superstars line the roster. The team sold out its initial allotment of season tickets. The new world-class practice facility draws rave reviews from every player on the roster as camp kicks off. Legitimate NBA players are competing for minutes throughout the entire roster.

Gone are the days of fringe NBA players trying not to give away their shots. Gone are the brick-layers of yesteryear. Some vestiges of that era remain - here’s to Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell for kicking down their proverbial doors into the NBA - but most of the roster are well-established athletes or are high draft picks with the pedigree to be great someday. Also, Jahil Okafor is still around, but even he’s turned a new leaf.

It’s a new day, yes it is. And we’re going to celebrate it in our player previews, which will focus on the change in the air, the new faces, and the old faces in new era of Sixers basketball. We’ll compare and contrast the old and the new, though the writers here might change the format up day-by-day. Today's discussion centers around Jahlil Okafor, someone who changed himself but can’t help that he still doesn’t fit the circumstances around him.

I have an unfortunate addiction to iced coffee. It started less than two years ago, when I was finally convinced that hot coffees were not appropriate for, like, late spring weather. Since then, most of the coffee I consume comes in large, plastic goblets that do not do well when exposed to standard room temperature air. I need it because I’m addicted, but it started because I have a lot of responsibilities at home, during my day/night job, and with the blog, to always be busy as a result of that, and to need caffeine to keep up with it all.

I received an email recently from Dunkin Donuts - my preferred destination for said beverages - congratulating me for earning 10,000 Dunkin Donuts points over the course of my lifetime, which for these purposes is less than three years. You earn 5 points for every $1 spent. Do the math. It’s embarrassing. I’ve made less money blogging on the internet in my lifetime (back when that was a thing for me) than I have spent on Dunkin Donuts. And that’s not even counting the other coffees I’ve consumed a sad number of times outside of home. Wawa! Starbucks! La Colombe! McDonald’s, even! My only saving grace is that I only made the mistake of buying Sheetz coffee once, because it’s EXTREMELY ASS and I’ve never had to go back a second time to verify that.

The funny thing about this is that I used to hate the taste of coffee, refusing to drink it through most of college. I drank soda. It tasted so much better, especially as a wake-up call in the morning. A crisp bottle of Pepsi or Diet Pepsi and the dew-filled Philly area air did the trick most mornings and woke me up. And then one in the afternoon at work or while studying, and another later if I needed to stay up late. Lifestyle-wise, drinking a big gulp every morning just to function as a human being was also extraordinarily unhealthy and probably impacts my daily life to this day.

Fortunately, I’ve made the change and am no longer a walking SodaStream. But the consistency between then and now is that I still typically have a hundred things ongoing and take on too many tasks at once, crave busy-ness, and need help in the form of additional energy. The underlying conditions still exist for me to need copious amounts of caffeine, and until that changes I can’t make real changes to my consumption habits.

With that in mind, it’s not really a new day for Jahlil Okafor.

Okafor changed his lifestyle to better adapt to the NBA game he hasn’t been able to master, but he finds himself surrounded by similar circumstances to the last two seasons. Okafor made changes to better himself - losing 20 pounds to gain quickness, adopting a vegan lifestyle - but he couldn’t change his environment.

He’s the unwanted player who is clearly not a part of the “core” team. He’s waiting for a trade he requested almost as soon as the team found out Embiid was a destroyer of worlds that they’d have to build around. He’s a me-first player on a team that emphasizes sharing the ball. He’s an old-school player that can’t quite handle the new school well enough to earn trust. He’s been ostracized from the team in a futile attempt to raise his trade value. He’s done wrong and been wronged.

Okafor cannot really be written off until he gets a shot under different circumstances, especially given how terrible a situation he finds himself in. He hasn’t been effective at all to-date in his NBA career - most players with as negative of a value produced don’t amount to anything. But the skills he brought to the NBA still exist, and a lighter variation of Okafor in a situation that isn’t so toxic for him is intriguing enough to gamble a late second rounder on him. Especially if he isn’t playing just to be dangled to other teams.

Okafor will play inconsistently for the time being, the fourth string center even while Richaun Holmes is out injured. Dario Saric will see extended time ahead of him, along with Embiid and Amir Johnson. When Embiid sits with his needed rest, Okafor will again showcased, to be shown off to the highest bidders. The Sixers will almost certainly decline his fourth year option, and if they were feeling apologetic about the situation they’ve left Okafor in, they could just release him and let him choose his next destination.

The Sixers won’t do that. Okafor brought a lot of these issues upon himself. The legal issues are entirely on him. Not being in NBA shape is too, and failing to measurably improve or even meet the lowest of expectations. He might still actually return something in a deal, as well.

Like my coffee consumption, where it’s necessarily because I probably take on too much work, Okafor’s issues are still somewhat in his control. But while he waits for a trade, at least Okafor can take solace in that he at least tried to improve what he could control, even if it’s ultimately futile.