Kenny Atkinson texted Jahlil Okafor on New Year’s Eve. The Nets’ coach informed him that he wanted to talk Monday at Barclays Center. Okafor had an idea that his days of being left out would be coming to an end early in 2018.
The 6-11 center/forward is expected to be back in play Wednesday night against Minnesota at Barclays Center, according to Atkinson.
“So to know I’m playing on Wednesday, I’m very excited,” Okafor said before Monday night’s win over Orlando.
Philadelphia didn’t need Okafor anymore with the emergence of Joel Embiid and used him in just two games before trading him to the Nets on Dec. 7. Okafor didn’t play in his first two games with them, then played in one before the Nets sat him so he could get in better game shape and learn the system.
But he seems at peace with the fact that he had to watch the season going without him thus far.
“From a basketball standpoint, it’s difficult,” Okafor said. “But in the grand scheme of just living life, it’s not that bad. I’m in the NBA, and I was able to work on my craft every day and get better.”
He doesn’t seem at peace with any perception that his Nets downtime has been all about being out of shape. He stressed the learning-the-system angle.
“So I don’t want the message to be it was just not me being fit enough,” Okafor said.
Even though he has been deemed good to go again, Okafor won’t be playing heavy minutes at first.
“We’ll evaluate where he is physically and game-wise,” Atkinson said. “Like anybody, you’ve got to earn it with play. Let’s see him in small doses and hopefully build him up to bigger minutes.”
Okafor was the third overall pick in the 2015 draft and the one-and-done Duke alum averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds across 53 games as a 76ers rookie. But he also experienced knee trouble that season and the next, was criticized about his defense and had missteps away from the court.
Now he’s here at age 22, thinking this is will be a good place to revive his career.
“I’m pretty confident,” Okafor said. “Just talking with the guys in the locker room, it’s all been positive feedback with the coaches. D’Angelo [Russell] is somebody I talk to often, and he loves it here. He had nothing but positive things to say to me before I even stepped foot into the facility.
“Everything he said was true. They really care about us, and the player development has been amazing. And just even off the floor, it’s been a good time.”