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February 07, 2017

2017 NBA Trade Deadline: Breaking down the Jahlil Okafor-New Orleans trade rumors

Before the Sixers got their doors blown off Monday night in Detroit, there were multiple reports that center Jahlil Okafor could be traded to the New Orleans Pelicans before the deadline in a few weeks. This marked the second time in the past week that No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft found himself in trade rumors.

On Monday, the second-year big man scored 16 points (7-11 FG, 2-7 FT) but only managed four rebounds and was a minus-15 for the game as the Sixers again struggled to defend without Joel Embiid in the lineup. The Pistons ended up defeating the Sixers, 113-96.

As of Tuesday morning, no trade for Okafor had been made. To start the day off, I figured we would analyze all (or at least most) the Monday’s rumors in some detail.

Who are the names being discussed in the potential trade?

From the Sixers’ end, it’s Okafor. That much seems to be clear. From New Orleans’ end, things get a bit murkier. It’s rumored to be center Alexis Ajinca and a first-round pick, via multiple sources:

So, who is Alexis Ajinca? Is he any good?

Ajinca is a 28-year-old, 7’2” French center (hey, that sounds familiar!) that had his best season two years ago as the Pelicans made the playoffs. Primarily coming off the bench in 68 games, Ajinca averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks per-36 minutes. The career year was well timed, because the Pelicans gave Ajinca a four-year, $20 million deal that offseason in free agency.

Fast-forward a couple of seasons and Ajinca is stapled to the bench, likely because he has the worst net rating on the Pelicans (-12.8 points per 100 possessions). And he wants to play again, according to a report from ESPN’s Marc Stein and Marc Spears:

Ajinca, 28, has played just three minutes since Dec. 26, when the Pelicans turned to small ball with Davis and Terrence Jones logging most of their minutes at center.

"I feel like I need to play," Ajinca said. "That's one of the major keys. If my time is up here, then it is. Then we'll see. I'm not controlling anything, so we'll see. We'll see if something happens today or in the next few days. I'm ready for whatever."

Considering his situation, it makes sense that Ajinca’s name would wind up in trade rumors.

Wait, would Ajinca play for the Sixers?

It would seem very unlikely, considering the Sixers have three young centers (Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Richaun Holmes) on the roster. A buyout or the stretch provision could be potential avenues that the Sixers explore after making a trade.

Is Ajinca the only name that has been rumored?

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski is the best basketball newsbreaker there is, and he brought up the name Omer Asik:

The good news for Sixers fans is that, according to Woj, Asik wasn’t part of the Sixers’ negotiations as of yesterday.

Why is that good news?

Asik might be a better player than Ajinca (particularly defensively), but he’s 30-years old and his contract is much, much worse. In fact, it’s poisonous for a player of his declining ability (numbers via Basketball Insiders):

Alexis Ajinca
 Omer Asik

(Early termination option in the last year means $9 million of Asik's 2019-20 salary is non-guaranteed.)

Asik has the type of contract that you would only take on in a trade unless the Pelicans attach an incredible asset to it.

Do the Pellies have an incredible trade asset?

Maybe! New Orleans’ own draft pick this year has the potential to be great because the team isn't good.

The Pelicans are currently tied with the Kings (pick swap!) for the seventh-worst record in the NBA. As we all know, a million teams are bunched up in that range from 4-12. Considering that this NBA Draft is deep at guard, the Pelicans should probably keep that pick. Heck, they could win the lottery again and pair up Markelle Fultz with Anthony Davis.

And according to Woj’s reporting, that is exactly what New Orleans wants to do:

So, we’re likely talking about a 2018 draft pick then?

In the Sixers’ case, it seems so. According to a report from USA Today’s Sam Amick, who broke this whole story, the Pelicans want the 2018 first-round pick to be lottery protected:

While also paying the tax of taking on Ajinca’s contract, that seems like a pretty fair trade for someone like Okafor, who hasn’t played all that well since entering the NBA. But according to Keith Smith, the Sixers want to drive down the protection on the pick further than that.

Who knows exactly what is true? But in a rumored deal, the back-and-forth over draft-pick protection is a very plausible sticking point.

Wait, don’t these two teams have a history of trading protected draft picks?

Yes, yes they do. Sam Hinkie did some draft-night magic to recoup a lost first-rounder that had little to do with New Orleans, but the Sixers played the protected pick game and essentially traded Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and Dario Saric.

On the other hand, the Sixers paid a steep price last year (two second-round picks) to acquire Ish Smith from New Orleans as a rental.

Jrue Holiday! What’s he up to?

Well, he’s in some Sixers-Pelicans trade rumors:

It was reported a few weeks ago that the Sixers are going to “take a hard look” at Holiday in free agency, so maybe it makes sense that you would want to get him back in Philadelphia. He obviously knows the city well, but giving him a chance to play with Embiid and Ben Simmons (who he fits pretty well with on paper) could have some value if Okafor is still the main trade chip.

Holiday is also an unrestricted free agent this offseason with a bad recent injury history. Combine that with the aforementioned guard-heavy draft and the Sixers’ rumored interest makes for an interesting look at risk-reward.

Holiday could also very well be a player that New Orleans would want to sign long-term.

Are you surprised there is so much reported interest in Okafor?

A little bit, but as of now, these are still reports and trade rumors.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann