Four years after playing his last NBA game, Emeka Okafor is making a comeback. The veteran center was added to the Philadelphia 76ers roster for training camp Monday, as was veteran forward Kris Humphries.
Okafor, 34, last played for the Washington Wizards in 2012-13. He has sat out the last four seasons while recovering from a herniated disk in his neck.
Humphries, 32, spent last season with the Atlanta Hawks. He averaged 4.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in 56 games.
While teams attempted to coax him out of pseudo-retirement, Okafor patiently set his own schedule. Agent Jeff Schwartz announced Okafor's impending return in August.
"He's probably five or six months away," Schwartz said at the time, per Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.com. "He's been working hard rehabbing. For some guys that means one thing. To Emeka, who understands his body as well or better than some trainers that have worked with him, it means something else. He's healthy. He feels great, but he's a perfectionist, and he wants everything to be right."
Okafor averaged 9.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game his last season in Washington. The 2005 NBA Rookie of the Year, Okafor has averaged 12.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks over his nine-year career.
Assessing whether Okafor can be effective is difficult because his situation is bordering on unprecedented. The sample of players who took four full seasons off from playing basketball and then returned isn't exactly robust. Okafor was a diminished player from his peak in Washington, with his waning athleticism sapping his effectiveness on both ends.
It's also worth noting that players with Okafor's skill set are less desirable than ever. He is not a long-range shooter, was never a particularly elite finisher near the basket and probably lacks the lateral quickness to chase pick-and-rolls at this point. Already undersized at 6'10" for a center, aging into a 34-year-old man's body isn't going to help him near the rim.
There aren't many cases where you can see a player like Okafor being particularly effective at this point. Perhaps the time off has invigorated his legs enough he'll be springy enough to defend out on the perimeter; Okafor at his peak was pretty agile. But a lot has changed in the NBA since Okafor's last game, and none of it is beneficial to his skills.
Neither Humphries nor Okafor's contracts are guaranteed. The Sixers currently have 12 players under guaranteed contracts, but Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes and T.J. McConnell are locks to make the roster. It's unlikely either of the two veteran bigs wind up on the opening night roster.