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Jahlil Okafor and his coach talk conditioning and when he’ll return ... It won’t be soon

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Brooklyn Nets

Jah was freed, and now he’s not.

Kind of…

Brooklyn Nets center Jahlil Okafor made his debut on Friday in perhaps the worst Nets loss of the season, a 120-87 whopping at the claws of the Toronto Raptors up north.

Okafor had 10 points and 4 rebounds in the loss to Toronto, suiting up for the Nets for the first time since arriving from Philadelphia via trade earlier in the week. On Sunday, Okafor was scheduled to debut at home in front of the Barclays Center faithful.

In the Nets’ 109-97 to the Indiana Pacers, he did not. The question now is when he will play again. The Nets and Okafor aren’t saying, but it doesn’t sound like it will be anytime soon.

"We needed kind of like a barometer of where he is. Toronto gave us some information,” Atkinson said of Okafor, who played 22 minutes on Friday against the Raptors, the only game Okafor’s played with the Nets since arriving via trade.

“Obviously we have other tricks we use, watching him in the performance room, in the weight room and then it was like let's talk. Where do you think you are? And I think collectively as a performance team we need to get better from a conditioning standpoint he was in agreement with it, which is good. Some guys like man let me play my way into shape.”

It’s not that Okafor is out of shape, said Atkinson. Having only played 25 minutes – in two games – the 6’11”, 255 pound center isn’t in basketball shape. There is a difference.

Okafor talked about the difference and his current situation.

“I don’t know how far I am away but I know I’m not there yet to where I can play 25, 30 minutes and actually help the team win,” Okafor said. “I’m doing myself a disservice, and the team, if I’m out there and not really contributing as much as I think I can. I don’t have a timetable but hopefully I’m not too far away because I do want to be out there.

“I do want to play with my teammates. It’s something I’m working with the staff – day by day, we’ll figure it out.”

Atkinson says Okafor has shown maturity in dealing with the issue when he wants to get out on the court so badly.

“He had the maturity and self-awareness to understand that,” Atkinson continued. “I think we put a plan in place, it's not like 'hey let's run around the track 10 times and you're ready.' There's a strategic plan in. We kind of do that with everybody. That's the performance team in collaboration with the assistant coaches putting in a plan to get him a little better condition."

Okafor says there are no issues with being integrated in the system.

“It’s been all positive,” Okafor said. “Me and coach Kenny (Atkinson) talked prior to the game yesterday. We kind of had a mutual agreement of (whether or not) I could actually be out there right now.

“I want the team to benefit from me being out there. I think just being able to have more good days under my belt with the staff with the people that they have here taking care of my body, my mind, my skill work, I think is really going to benefit me so when I do get back out there I could actually help the team.”

As far as monitoring the situation going forward, it will be pretty much the same as when a player in returning from an injury, Atkinson said. The team will monitor and vaguely call the situation ‘day-to-day.’

"It's literally going to be daily feedback with me and performance and him just trying to find what that time looks like. There's no timetable on it right now,” offered Atkinson. “That being said, he's at a level where he could get out there and play, it's not like we're saying 'nope, he's not playing right now', that's not the case. I do think there is a level of conditioning he's got to get to if he wants to play good minutes, significant minutes."

Okafor was asked on his physical state currently. He says quite frankly he didn’t know where he stood. He feels like the season is just getting started for him. He played 85 minutes in five preseason games, then 22 a week later. After that, he sat for 17 games over five weeks.

“I think it’s safe to say that you really don’t know where you stand playing against one of the best teams in the east,” he said, regarding his experience against Toronto. “A lot of the guys, they’re in mid-season form, where I kind of feel like I’m at the start of the season because I haven’t really played.

“I feel like I have to catch up to a lot of guys. That’s why I’m happy that I’m here with an actual NBA coaching staff, they’re taking care of me every day. When I was in Philly, I was kind of figuring it out on my own. I had my own trainer (Rick Lewis) that I’ve been working with since the eighth grade working me out. It’s a different level when you’re actually working with an NBA staff.”

With his trainer, Okafor had been doing individual skill work while in Philly. As for his permanent, consistent return to action, there is no timetable, according to the center.

“I have no idea; it was just something that they presented with me yesterday. We both agreed that it was fair, and it was legit, to try to get in better shape and try to integrate myself better because what they’re doing, I’m all new to. I don’t have a timetable, but it’s a long season. I think they’re doing their best to help me out, so I’m appreciative of that,” he said.

What about a stint in the G-League? Is that going to give him minutes, but hurt his confidence? It hasn’t been discussed, said Atkinson.

"I think the plan is to do it in house. We can create game situations here, it's not perfect with referees and stuff but I think you can see how many gosh darn staff that we have,” he said with a chuckle.

Atkinson says that Okafor’s condition doesn’t come as a surprise, being that he arrived having played 25 minutes all season.

“There's a difference between game conditioning and NBA conditioning,” Atkinson said.

“It's just a whole other level. It doesn't surprise me at all. And I would say the fact that he's a bigger guy, I think that's part of it too. I think it's a little more difficult for those guys." "At the end of the day we have to put him in a position to succeed and in a position where he can really help us,” he continued. “If we rushed into it wouldn't be good for him and it wouldn't been good for us, and I think he understands that."