MIAMI -- Second NBA season, second go-around with trade rumors. Jahlil Okafor knows how to handle the buzz by now.
Okafor has been in the mix of trade talks since his rookie year. Last season, there was a logjam of centers with him and Nerlens Noel; this season, it has been further crowded with Joel Embiid in the starting spot.
"I’ve been focusing on what I can control, and that’s being here," Okafor said after shootaround on Saturday. "I don’t get into the trade rumors and all that stuff."
The Bulls reportedly expressed interest in Okafor, according to CSNChicago.com, kicking off a month that will be filled with more buzz like this leading up to the trade deadline.
“Trade rumors are something that’s going to be part of my life probably for as long as I’m in the NBA," Okafor said. "I’ve been hearing it since I’ve been in the NBA about me being traded. I just try to focus on what I can. That’s being here on this team and trying to help this team win.”
There has never been a clearly defined role for Okafor. During his rookie season, the Sixers tried to find the best way to play him and Noel, both true centers, at the same time. One had to be out of position in order to accomplish this, and the pairing was filled with challenges.
It didn’t get any more clarified this season. The Sixers have experimented with bringing Okafor off the bench, starting him in Embiid’s absence, and also starting him alongside Embiid. After the twin towers experiment didn’t pan out, Okafor fell out of the rotation as Brett Brown narrowed it down to 10 players. For the most part, he has been receiving minutes as a starter when Embiid is out.
Okafor said those in his personal circle don’t bring up trade rumors with him. He also doesn’t use them as extra motivation.
“I’m fueled enough just by I want to be great,” Okafor said. “I don’t look at it as a negative or I’m mad at anybody because of a rumor. That doesn’t bother me.”
The Sixers have maintained they are not in a rush to trade a big just for the sake of making a move. With so many bigs (don’t forget about Richaun Holmes, too), it is inevitable other teams will inquire. Brett Brown knows what the month of February can be like for the players.
“As the volume (of rumors) gets turned up, so does my volume,” Brown said. “It doesn’t waver. I don’t pivot at all on what I’ve been telling them -- I will do my best for you. I will coach you. We will put you in a position where you can grow and succeed. It’s part of my responsibility on a court. Obviously it’s partnership.
"There are things that we need you to do that are, by in large, energy based. But once you give us that, we’ll help get you better. That could be with us, it could be with somebody else, but while you’re with me until somebody tells me otherwise, I’m giving you my best effort. They understand that. We communicate. I give those guys tremendous credit on how they’ve handled it.”
For Okafor, sticking with the words of his coach is helpful.
“He’s amazing at communicating with me,” Okafor said. "When he feels like he needs to say something with me dealing with trade rumors or whatever’s going on off the court, he always does a great job of letting me know and giving me advice. He’s been in the NBA for a while, so he lets me know it’s something that I’m going to have to deal with for the rest of my career.”