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Jahlil Okafor will play more on one condition: Get in shape

Brooklyn Nets center Jahlil Okafor warms up before

Brooklyn Nets center Jahlil Okafor warms up before an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards at Barclays Center on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Jahlil Okafor launched corner threes late in the Nets’ Monday afternoon practice, firmly dedicated to climbing the career-resurrection mountain. One night earlier Okafor, who was acquired by trade from the 76ers on Dec. 7, sat out the Nets’ 109-97 loss to the Indiana Pacers at Barclays Center.

But, although “Did Not Plays” haunted Okafor in Philadelphia, this one had a bit of a different feel. It’s all part of the Nets’ plan to get Okafor, who played three minutes in the entire month of November, back in shape and ready to fully begin the next chapter of his once-promising career.

And Okafor is completely on board. Heck, he’s just happy to be working with an NBA staff again.

“A lot of the guys here are in midseason form and I’m at the start of the season because I really haven’t played,” Okafor said at the Nets Training Center in Brooklyn. “I feel like I have to catch up to a lot of guys. That’s why I’m happy I’m here with the actual NBA coaching staff taking care of you every day. When I was in Philadelphia, I was working 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 NBA staff.”

Although Nets coach Kenny Atkinson refused to comment on the way the 76ers handled Okafor, he did express extreme happiness, mixed with some pleasant surprise, at how receptive the big man was to the Nets’ plan to get him back in shape.

“I think, collectively with our performance team, we said we need to get better from a conditioning standpoint and he was in agreement with it, which was good,” Atkinson said of Okafor, who scored 10 points in 23 minutes in his Nets debut against Toronto last Friday. “Some guys will fight you on it like, ‘Man, let me play my way into shape.’ He had the maturity and self awareness to understand that. I think we put in a plan — it’s not like ‘OK, lets go run around a track’ — it’s a strategic plan ... We kind of do that with everybody.”

Neither Atkinson nor Okafor would commit to any timetable for his return to regular action. There is none, they say, and, for now, they’re fine with that.

“That being said, if there’s a situation where we need him and we’ve decided that he’s at a level where he can play, it’s not like we’re saying ‘No, he’s not playing.’ That’s not the case,” Atkinson said. “But I do think there’s a level of conditioning that he’s got to get to if he wants to play good, significant minutes.”

Once Okafor can play significantly, the minutes distribution between him and fellow centers Tyler Zeller and Jarrett Allen will have to be figured out. Atkinson said he hasn’t gotten to that point yet, with Okafor still in the beginning stages of his conditioning program.

“We’ll figure out, can [Okafor] play both positions?” Atkinson said. “Can he go out and guard fours? We’ll have to see that and figure that out with the bigs.”

And that’s, perhaps, where the long-range jumpers come in. Those aren’t something that’s a large part of Okafor’s game, but taking those kind of shots in practice is something Okafor said he does routinely.

“I’m very comfortable in practice, but you have to make adjustments to be successful in a game shooting it,” Okafor said.

Nets sign LI Nets’ Doyle

The Nets signed guard Milton Doyle to a two-way contract. Doyle appeared in 17 games with the Long Island Nets, Brooklyn’s G League affiliate, where he averaged 21.3 points in 34.7 minutes per game.

“I think [Long Island Nets coach] Ron Nored runs the same system as Kenny,” Doyle said. “They have the same energy. I think playing down there and getting a lot of minutes helped me adjust and get prepared for this level.”

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