The New Orleans Pelicans signed former Wizards center Emeka Okafor to a 10-day contract on Saturday. Okafor played for the Wizards in the 2012-13 season after getting traded to Washington with Trevor Ariza in exchange for Rashard Lewis and the 46th pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. In his lone season in D.C., Okafor averaged 9.7 points and 8.8 rebounds in a season where Washington went 29-53, partly because John Wall missed the first half of the season due to a knee injury.
As you might recall, Okafor never played in the NBA again until now because he was traded to the Phoenix Suns before the start of the 2013-14 season in exchange for Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall, Malcolm Lee and the first round pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. Okafor was traded because he suffered a herniated disc in his neck just one month before the regular season began. Washington was desperate to make a “playoff push” which would be the first in the John Wall Era of the franchise, while the Suns were rebuilding and Gortat was unhappy toward the end of his time there.
From hindsight, the trade was successful for the Wizards. Gortat has been the Wizards’ starting center ever since and Washington made three playoff appearances in the last four years, advancing to the second round every time.
But I always felt bad for Okafor, who played a pivotal role in Wall’s maturity, and that he only played in the NBA playoffs one season back in 2010-11 when he was with the Pelicans, who were the Hornets at the time. Okafor has always been a stand-up guy throughout his time in the NBA, and a solid low post defender throughout his entire career. He just never had an opportunity to play on many playoff bound teams.
Now that he is back in the NBA with the Pelicans for his second stint there, the Pelicans can use additional help at the center position. DeMarcus Cousins recently suffered a season ending Achilles injury while Alexis Ajinca had surgery on his right patellar tendon in October. Even with Nikola Mirotic now in New Orleans, this gives Okafor a good opportunity to get some playing time and act as a veteran mentor in the locker room, especially if his 10-day contract is renewed.
It was a shame to see that Okafor didn’t play in the NBA for four seasons, but he averaged 6.8 points and 5 rebounds for the Delaware 87ers in the G-League this season while playing under 20 minutes a game. Okafor’s still showing potential that he can contribute for an NBA team that is looking to get in the playoffs, like the Pelicans.
Welcome back to the NBA, Emeka!