It isn’t often that an NBA trade immediately jumps out as a win-win deal, but Brooklyn and Philadelphia both seemed to have accomplished their goals in this trade. Philadelphia is further along on their path to becoming a playoff team again while the Nets are still in asset accumulation mode. Both teams tore it down to the studs as they rebuilt. The 76ers did it by bottoming out and maximizing their chances to land a franchise player in the draft. The Nets, by virtue of trading picks and pick swaps to Boston, did it a couple years later than Philadelphia and without clear shots at a franchise player in the draft.
After a couple of creative trades, Brooklyn is hoping they can rehab the value of a pair of former high picks. They already have D’Angelo Russell and have now added Jahlil Okafor. This trade saw the Nets acquire Okafor, Nik Stauskas and the Knicks 2019 second round pick via Philadelphia in exchange for Trevor Booker.
Okafor is the prime acquisition for the Nets in this deal. He has, in the span of a couple of years, fallen completely out of favor across the NBA. With Joel Embiid healthy for the first time, Okafor is out of the rotation entirely. He’s even spent long stretches away from the team entirely. And this is after the Sixers declined their team option on the fourth year of Okafor’s rookie scale contract.
Yet, despite the 76ers giving up on him, there might still be a productive player in there somewhere. As a rookie, Okafor averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds per game in 30 minutes per game over 48 starts. He shot over 50 percent as a rookie and, in spite of some poor defense overall, he blocked 1.2 shots a game. In his second year, playing behind Embiid for part of the year, Okafor still scored 11.8 points per game on over 51 percent shooting.
The Nets will give Okafor the best chance he’s going to get to prove he’s an NBA-caliber player. Once he’s up to speed, he’ll likely split time with Jarrett Allen in the middle. Brooklyn is still outside the playoff picture, which means they can afford to give Okafor minutes and find out what exactly they have. They don’t have any clear low-post scoring options either, so Okafor should get plenty of touches and chances to score the ball.
One downside for the Nets? Brooklyn is capped out as to how much they can pay him as a free agent this summer. Because Philadelphia declined the fourth year option, the Nets can only pay him a maximum of just over $6.3 million. Now, this isn’t likely to come into play, given Okafor has a lot of value to rebuild, but it could make things harder to re-sign him if he does break out.
The Nets also picked up Nik Stauskas in the trade, making Brooklyn his third team in four years. After looking like a bust as a rookie with Sacramento, Stauskas showed signs of life as a rotation player with the 76ers. Last season was his best year, as he averaged 9.5 points per game over 80 games played. The challenge is that he still shot under 40 percent overall. For someone whose reputation was built on being a shooter, he hasn’t shown enough of that. This year, Stauskas hasn’t been a part of things for the Sixers as he’s battled an ankle injury for most of the season and simply hasn’t played when healthy because he’s behind a host of other wings.
Brooklyn basically gets a free look at Stauskas. Kenny Atkinson plays a lot of different wings and gives his players the freedom to fire at will; maybe he can finally unlock Stauskas as a shooter. If so, the Nets can make Stauskas a restricted free agent and match any offers he might get this summer.
Brooklyn also picked up a second round pick, and for a team that hasn’t had many chances in the draft during their rebuild, getting another pick is always helpful. That encapsulates Brooklyn's rebuild strategy as rebuilding without draft picks is an almost impossible task. But Sean Marks has done a nice job trading veterans for picks and for former high draft picks who need a fresh start. Russell was the first piece and now Okafor and Stauskas join him on the reclamation path.
Grade for the Nets: B
At this point, neither Okafor nor Stauskas were in Philadelphia’s plans. The 76ers are now a playoff-level team and don’t have room for projects. They’ve got Embiid up front, backed up by a veteran in Amir Johnson and a young player they love in Richaun Holmes. Stauskas was out of the rotation behind more capable wing players.
For Bryan Colangelo to turn two non-rotation players into a helpful veteran, while also not taking on any money past this year, is a win. Booker will help the Sixers up front, both as a backup behind Embiid, but also by allowing Brett Brown to spot Johnson more often. Whenever Embiid has had to miss a game, Johnson ends up taking most of those minutes, including starting on occasion. He’s also the 76ers primary backup big man. Over the past two seasons with the Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens was judicious in how he used Johnson and got a lot out of him all the way into the playoffs. At age 30, but in his 13th season with a history of nagging injuries, Philadelphia would like to keep Johnson fresh for the long haul, but needed another capable big to help cover those backup minutes.
In his eighth season, Booker is averaging a career-best 10.1 points per game. He’s also rebounding as well as he ever has. Booker essentially defines the term “rugged defender”, as he’s more than capable of banging inside, often with bigger players. He’ll be a backup 4/5 with Philadelphia, while also bringing another layer of professionalism to the locker room.
To his credit, Okafor hadn’t become a distraction for the 76ers. He made it clear he wanted to play, but otherwise kept his head down and stayed quiet. But there was always the chance that could have changed as the year moved along. That would have been the last thing a young team trying to make the playoffs needed. Now, that worry is removed entirely.
Giving up a pick isn’t something you could have expected the Sixers to do in recent years, but the roster is getting full. They remain a fairly young team, so the few roster spots available in coming years are more likely to go to veterans who fill a defined role. Because of this, the 76ers can afford to give up a second round pick without much concern.
While “The Process” was all about finding stars at the top of the draft and mining hidden gems from late draft picks and undrafted players, Philadelphia is now well past that phase. With players like Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric, they have their high picks playing well. They came up with Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell from the lightly-regarded group. With the rotation flush with talent, it was time to start adding veterans and to continue push things forward towards a playoff spot. J.J. Redick and Johnson were the first part of that this summer. Booker is another step in that direction. With tradable assets still left on the roster, Colangelo might not be done. “The Process” is complete and Philadelphia is now full steam ahead towards a playoff spot.
Grade for the 76ers: B+