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A Year In The Review: The End Of The Jahlil Okafor Era

Three weeks after he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets, it’s finally time to put a bow on the Jahlil Okafor era.

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New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

You may not have noticed, but we here at Liberty Ballers never put together a "proper" sendoff for Jahlil Okafor. We discussed writing something more in-depth than the straight news piece that we posted when he and Nick Stauskas were traded for Trevor Booker, but not a single person on the staff had any desire to do so. On that day, we only came to work with 15 pieces of flair.

Earlier this month, we bantered around ideas for end-of-the-calendar-year articles, and I volunteered as tribute to write the Okafor post-script. After all, I figured that a former No. 3 overall pick who averaged 17 points and seven rebounds while being named to the All-Rookie First Team in 2016 deserved some sort of epitaph on his Sixers' gravestone.

You don't have to look too hard to find positive Okafor articles on this site. Numbers never* lie, and the former Duke center was putting up extraordinary offensive statistics as a rookie. And while his defensive issues continued to stand out like Kobe Bryant at a modesty convention, I personally thought Okafor's proficiency on offense would (could?) outweigh the deficiencies on the other end of the floor.

Yes... there was the issue of him stealing on half of the city of Boston after someone yelled out "Sixers suck" (which, at the time, was undoubtedly true). And yes... he was cited for going 108 MPH in his Maybach over the Ben Franklin Bridge. But two weeks after his suspension for the Beantown incident, Okafor put up a 25-point/10-rebound double-double in an impressive win over the Portland Trail Blazers, and he followed that up with a 22-point/17-rebound performance in early February versus the Brooklyn Nets.

A meniscus injury prematurely ended Okafor's rookie year and had lasting impacts well into his sophomore campaign. Even so, former HBO host Bill Simmons banged the drum for his beloved Celtics to acquire Okafor, while optimistic Sixers' fans were anticipating a banner second year from the former national champion. After all, it's hard not to feel at least a twinge of positivity when the annual #MuscleWatch photos come dancing along our timelines each summer.

Between his balky right knee and the arrival of Joel Hans Embiid, Okafor found himself in an unfamiliar place: no guarantee of playing time on a given night. Brett Brown's lineup experiments included deactivating Okafor for games on end, yet the biggest embarrassment likely came when the Sixers left him home during a road trip (signaling that a trade was imminent), only to bring him back into the fold days later like nothing had happened.

A couple of weeks later, we all witnessed a moment that served as something of a death knell for the Team #Prokafor movement.

Per an October SBNation article, Okafor became something of a recluse this offseason. While Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz were getting the press coverage, Okafor was in the midst of losing 20 pounds via on a vegan diet while contemplating his place on the team. It was clear to anyone paying attention that he no longer fit into the Sixers' plans, yet it didn't seem like there was any impetus from the front office to move on from the situation.

We all knew what the deal was. Heck... Sean O'Connor spent the first few grafs of his Okafor season preview talking about iced coffee and SodaStream. So we didn't even blink once the DNP-CDs started racking up and the #FreeJah movement started gaining some traction.

Jah was freed exactly three weeks ago - freed from the scrutiny of 76ers' fans and bloggers, freed from some of the expectations that come with being a No. 3 overall pick. If you were to ask Okafor, he'd probably tell you that he was also freed from a less-than-ideal coaching staff. He walked it back a bit the following day, but the situation served as the appropriate epilogue to Okafor's surreal two-plus season stint in Philly.

If you live or work in the Philadelphia area, there's a good chance that you're within spitting distance of a workplace or a barbershop where SOMEONE still rides for Jahlil Okafor. But if the former McDonald's All-American - who just turned 22 earlier this month - wants to prove the non-believers wrong, he doesn't have a whole lot of time left to change the narrative.

As of this writing, Okafor has been listed as inactive or has received a DNP-CD in 10 of his first 11 games with the Nets.

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