My gut tells me that if Okafor gets healthy, he and the Suns will agree on a buyout. If that happens, I predict Okafor will sign with the Clippers for the playoff stretch.
It almost makes too much sense not to happen.
Okafor has been teammates in the past with five of the Clippers’ current 14 players. That’s a ridiculous coincidence. To have five former teammates on board, all of whom with a good rapport and strong praise for Okafor, would be a huge advantage for L.A. in the post-buyout recruiting circuit.
“Emeka is a friend of mine,“ said Willie Green, who started alongside Okafor and Chris Paul in New Orleans and now plays with Paul and the Clippers. “He was a great teammate. I’m sure whatever team he lands with is going to be getting a contributor. He’s a good basketball player and he rebounds the ball well. He’s smart and takes care of his body. If he’s here, it would be exciting to have him.“
Okafor would provide the defensive presence up front that Los Angeles has lacked ever since the birth of Lob City.
Last season, the Wizards’ eight best defensive lineups featured Okafor. More tellingly, Okafor anchored the Wizards to the fifth best defensive efficiency in the league. Individually, Okafor’s impact is also apparent: he ranked within the top 10 players for defensive efficiency at 99.0 points per 100 opponent possessions, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Okafor’s biggest asset is his strength and power, which more than makes up for the fact that he’s not quite 7-feet tall.
“He might possibly be the strongest guy in the NBA,” said Hollins, who backed up Okafor in Charlotte from 2006-2008. “He’s athletic and he rebounds. He’s also got probably the best timing there can be with blocking shots.”
Okafor’s not the shot blocker he was early in his career but he still can get up to contest attacks at the rim in big moments. Less than a year ago, he had an emphatic rejection on an accelerating Kevin Durant:
“He’s a good fit for anybody,” said Darren Collison, Okafor’s teammate in New Orleans who now backs up Chris Paul in Los Angeles. “What he does defensively is bring that presence. He’s also a guy who you can count on to be a good veteran in the locker room.”
After John Wall returned to the court for Washington following a season-long rehabilitation last year, the Wizards finished the season at 24-25. If they played near-.500 ball for the entire season, Okafor would’ve been anchoring a playoff team.
Though he’s been hurt, he’s still only 31 years old and should have a couple of good seasons still left in him. His reputation for constantly getting hurt is overridden by his other reputation for being a player who takes great care of his body.
This is Okafor’s ninth season in the league and he’s played at least 67 games in six of them. Last season, while not his most impressive visually, Okafor played some of the most efficient basketball of his career. Sure, he’s no Iron Man but –then again – a herniated disc in the neck isn’t exactly the type of thing you want to rush back from too fast.
“He’s someone who took care of his body better than anyone I had seen,” said Jared Dudley, who was once Okafor’s Big East rival and eventually became Okafor’s NBA teammate in Charlotte. “He did things like yoga stretching and palates. He focused on that more than anything else. His whole thing was, ‘If I could stay healthy. I could contribute.’”
For years, Okafor has contributed. He averaged a double-double in each of his first five seasons in the league. He’s averaged close to a double-double in every season since.
Remember, when Chris Paul found out that Okafor would be joining him in going from the Hornets to the Lakers in 2011 (before the trade was eventually nixed), Paul called Okafor’s addition to the trade “icing on the cake.”
Now that Okafor is a serious buyout candidate, the two might have an opportunity to team up in Los Angeles after all. Only this time, it would be with the Clippers. Los Angeles has a roster spot available and wouldn’t have to pay Okafor more than the veteran’s minimum to sign him.
Add Okafor to the Clippers’ front line and all of a sudden their interior depth looks respectable. And when you already have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin leading the charge, respectable front line depth is all you really need to have a shot at winning in the playoffs. For all the summer hoopla that surrounded the arrivals of Doc Rivers, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley in L.A., it could actually turn out to be a winter pickup of Emeka Okafor that ends up differentiating this Clippers team from the disappointing playoff performances in Lob City in 2012 and 2013.
Jared Dudley said it best:
“If [Okafor] came back healthy like the Emeka he was before, he could definitely help a contending team – easy.”