Jahlil Okafor has been with the Nets for five games. In four of those, he’s seen a DNP-CD, which should make him feel right at home. In Philadelphia, the prevailing thought was Okafor wasn’t playing because he wasn’t going to be here much longer and it would be doing everyone a disservice by just tossing him out there in garbage time. With the Nets, it’s different.
According to coach Kenny Atkinson - and people with eyes - Jah just isn’t in NBA game shape. Atkinson told the New York Post:
There’s just a difference between game conditioning — NBA conditioning — for [most people] he’s probably in better shape, but it’s a whole other level. It doesn’t surprise me at all. The fact that he’s a bigger guy, that’s part of it, too. It’s more difficult for them.
We need to put him in a situation to succeed and a position to help us. I told him you’re not going to be alone. It’s not like we’re going to put you on some mountain and you’re going to be running. We’re going to do this together.
Okafor agreed with his coach’s assessment, but had a reason for not being in game shape. Hint: It’s not his fault.
I’m doing myself a disservice and the team if I’m out there. I’m not really contributing as much as I think I can...
That’s why I’m happy I’m here with the actual NBA coaching staff that’s taking care of me every day. When I was in Philly I was figuring it out on my own. I had my own trainer [Rick Lewis] that I’ve been working with since eighth grade working me out. But it’s a different level when you’re actually working with an NBA staff.
I have been on the record many, many times saying I hope Jah succeeds elsewhere. The whole point of my “buy him out” argument was that his value didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to do well here, and holding out for any real value was just trying to walk the plank in slow motion (though Trevor Booker looks like some solid half-season return for now). I still hope he succeeds. But that hope seems less and less realistic.
Atkinson said the Nets “need to put him in a situation to succeed,” and that’s a fair thing for a coach to say. But in all the time he spent here, though the situation was sub-optimal, Jah never made the moves to put himself in the position to succeed. He blames the Sixers for his lack of fitness, without acknowledging that the blame is shared between both parties. He never grew as a defensive player. That is not the mindset of someone just waiting to go off in the NBA. That’s the mindset of someone waiting to find someone to blame when he doesn’t.
Jah isn’t a Sixer anymore. I never disliked him as a person and I still wish him the best. But when quotes like this come out, it’s hard to see the possibility.