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Brouhaha in Philly after Okafor suggests Nets have “actual coaching staff”

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Brooklyn Nets

It started with Jahlil Okafor’s comment to Nets media Monday, following Kenny Atkinson’s explanation of why he needs to get into basketball shape following so many weeks of being benched in Philadelphia.

Said Okafor...

I’m doing myself a disservice and the team if I’m out there. I’m not really contributing as much as I think I can...

That’s why I’m happy I’m here with the actual NBA coaching staff that’s taking care of me every day. When I was in Philly I was figuring it out on my own. I had my own trainer [Rick Lewis] that I’ve been working with since eighth grade working me out. But it’s a different level when you’re actually working with an NBA staff.”

Well, that set off alarm bells in the City of Brotherly Love. Liberty Ballers, the SB Nation blog that covers the 76ers, thought the comment was out of line. Then others noticed what Okafor said and by Tuesday afternoon, Brett Brown felt the need to respond.

It was actually the second time that Okafor had blunt words about the 76ers treatment of him, but apparently nobody in Philly noticed. In his first press conference after the trade and after the Nets returned from Mexico, Okafor told the media....

“I just wasn’t playing and I wasn’t a part of the team’s future, I was just kind of there. But not to knock that staff, they cared for me, they love me and I love them too, but at some point you do kind of feel you’re on the backburner.”

Kinder words, but hardly an endorsement.

Bottom line, though, is that as far as we can tell, no one in Philly suggested, at least this year, that Okafor’s conditioning was an issue in his being benched. He lost 20 pounds, went on a vegan diet and was, according to media reports just before the trade, the last player to leave the gym after working on his conditioning and his shot.

Certainly, there were (and are) questions about his defense, but not about his maturity. Even Joel Embiid remarked after the trade, that if he had been treated like Okafor, he doesn’t know he would have handled it.

“With Jahlil, I really appreciate that he didn’t want to cause a scene,” Embiid told Ramona Shelburne. “If it was me, I feel like I would have lost it. I don’t know if I could have handled it.”

Brett Brown said he was pleased with Okafor’s professionalism as well, but the reality is that Okafor was NOT treated fairly in Philly. He didn’t play. In some cases, he wasn’t even part of the team. He was trade bait.

Bryan Colangelo admitted that in an interview with Adrian Wojnarowski not long before the trade. He also praised Okafor’s professionalism in the face of what was a unique situation.

"We appreciate the effort that [Okafor] has put forth, and other than a little frustration expressed recently, he’s been patient waiting for an opportunity to play. I continue to explore opportunities with both Jahlil and [agent] Bill Duffy to find a more suitable spot for him."

Brown wouldn’t even play him in blowouts, saying he wouldn’t do it out of respect. He explained his thinking 10 days before the trade when asked why he didn’t play him in a 30-point win...

“No. I don’t think it’s fair. I think that you get into a playing rhythm, a playing routine, and that’s fair.

“To just hoist somebody a little tiny window of minutes isn’t something that interests me.

“And I say that out of respect to him. I don’t think that puts him in a position that I want to put him in.”

There was a reason why so many NBA players adopted the #FreeJah hashtag before the 76ers finally relinquished him. They believed he wasn’t being treated fairly.

Later, Okafor issued a statement on Instagram...

”I’ve expressed countless times the love I have for the Philadelphia coaching staff. I don’t ‘blame’ them for anything. Hate that my quote was taken out of context. Nothing but love and appreciation for everyone there.”

Considering that everyone quoted his entire comment, it’s hard to claim things were taken “out of context.” And as noted above, he twice criticized the way he was treated, one a little harsher than the other.

Whatever. As Brett Brown noted, he’s a “young player.”

Whether the staff in Philly focused enough on him or not is between him and the 76ers coaches. But to suggest he shouldn’t have bad feelings about how he was treated in Philly is silly.