The phone lines are heating up as the NBA trade deadline approaches. Do the Pacers think Jahlil Okafor is in their plans?
Almost as quickly as the rumors began, IndyStar columnist Bob Kravitz reported that the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets have stopped trade talks for Brook Lopez. This comes several hours after it was initially suggested that the Pacers would try and use Al Jefferson and their first round pick to acquire Lopez.
The trade chatter continues, however, as ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported that Indiana has discussed trading for Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor. Okafor currently stands in a crowded rotation of big men in Philadelphia that includes Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel. Playing a full 7 minutes per game fewer than his rookie year, Okafor is averaging 11.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game.
The news comes at a time when team president Larry Bird has stated he is willing to part with pieces- including the Pacers' first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft- so that he can get help for Paul George not only for success this season, but also to help convince him to re-sign a long-term extension once his current deal expires.
There is some logic in acquiring Okafor; he is an established scoring threat with his back to the basket, and can routinely grab double-doubles when given the proper playing time. One of Indiana's most glaring flaws is their ineptitude on the glass, where they currently rank 27th in the league in rebounds per game. The addition of Okafor would only improve the Pacers' poor rebounding habits, and his presence could have prevented some recent crunch-time losses.
The problem with acquiring Okafor is the fit on the current roster. If he were to start, it will theoretically slide Myles Turner to the 4 position, and that would leave Indiana potentially starting Okafor, Turner, George, Thaddeus Young, and Jeff Teague together. Playing 4 bigs with a point guard is a death sentence against opposing small-ball lineups, and Indiana's already porous defense would worsen. Okafor currently sports a disheartening 110.4 defensive rating, and the last thing the Pacers' defense needs is a weaker inside presence. If Okafor instead were to come off the bench, it likely means that Indiana has moved on from Jefferson in favor of a younger post-up center. While this move would potentially make sense in the long-term, it would sacrifice Jefferson's efficient scoring for growth in the coming seasons. Additionally, Okafor has trouble shooting from 15 feet and beyond, limiting his role offensively. Plus, Jefferson's $10.3M salary makes it so that Philadelphia would need to throw in an additional contract for the trade to satisfy the cap restrictions. A shooter like Nik Stauskas would fit the bill for the Pacers, and they would likely match the number of traded assets with a draft pick.
Trading for Okafor seems like a "trade just to make a trade" move that would end up hurting the Pacers overall for the remainder of the current season. Even if his offensive potential grows in the succeeding years, Okafor might once again find himself in a crowded frontcourt sharing time with Myles Turner.