Kawhi Leonard to Sixers? Only if the price is right

Kawhi Leonard to Sixers? Only if the price is right

It’s already been an interesting and anxious offseason for the Sixers, but the fun has only just begun.

They’ve been mentioned as a possible landing spot for the greatest player in the world in LeBron James and disgruntled Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard.

It’s no secret the Sixers want to acquire another star — or two — to complement Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Brett Brown, the team’s head coach and interim GM, wasn’t shy in stating that the Sixers are “star hunting.”

But what’s the cost?

For James, it’s simple: A max contract, which the Sixers should be able to afford fairly easily with few maneuvers. Leonard, on the other hand, could be tricky.

There’s no doubt the Sixers have the assets to make a Leonard trade happen, but what would they be willing to give up? If James is coming here, then you sell, sell, sell. Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz are tough guys to lose, but if you’re getting the opportunity to bring in James and Leonard to play with Embiid and Simmons, you don’t think twice.

The counterpoint to acquiring James and Leonard is a desire to keep the team’s young core in intact. But why? You get those four superstars and then you figure out the rest later. Do you think the Warriors were worried about their "young core" when they let Harrison Barnes walk and signed Kevin Durant? Nope. That’s worked out pretty well for them.

The trickier scenario occurs if you know you’re not getting James. Do you go all in and build around the core of Leonard, Embiid and Simmons? Do you hang onto your assets and cap space, hoping to take another shot at a star next offseason? What about Leonard’s contract situation?

If James doesn’t come here, the Sixers should be careful with Leonard. He’s a star player — a two-time Defensive Player of the Year with an ascending offensive game. He’ll be just 27 when the season starts. The injury is a concern, but with Leonard being treated by Dr. Jonathan Glashow, the Sixers' chief medical officer, there’s no team with better information on Leonard’s quad. This is a player worth trading for.

But again, at what price? A Leonard, Embiid and Simmons-led squad would be among the East’s best teams, but if you’re giving up Saric, Fultz, and first-round pick Zhaire Smith among other things, will you be able to compete with the Celtics in the East? Sure, you’ll have veterans that will want to play here, but the Sixers have to be wary to not relinquish too many assets to the Spurs.

When it comes to Leonard’s contract status, if he’s unwilling to sign an extension here, you don’t make the deal. It’s that simple. There is no point in giving away assets on a one-year rental, even if James comes to Philly next season.

Star-hunting season begins July 1. Should Leonard be in the Sixers’ crosshairs? Yes, but the trigger should only be pulled if the price is right.

More on the Sixers

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•​ NBA free agency preview: Can Sixers upgrade from Johnson at backup center?

•​ If no LeBron or P.G., how should Sixers proceed in free agency?

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Sixers Talk: Ben Simmons not playing in the World Cup; Mike Scott living his best life

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Sixers Talk: Ben Simmons not playing in the World Cup; Mike Scott living his best life

Ben Simmons will not be playing for Team Australia in the World Cup while Mike Scott is living his best life on his 31st birthday. Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick talk that and sneaky teams in the East on this edition of Sixers Talk.

Simmons is choosing to work on his game for the upcoming NBA season instead of playing in the FIBA World Cup. What are the pros and cons?

Scott and the hive are having a great time on Twitter. Plus, we found out that the Sixers' forward didn't do so hot in French class at UVA.

The Sixers and Bucks appear to be the two top teams in the East. Which team could sneak up on them?

That and more below on this edition of Sixers Talk.

'Potential' is a dangerous word, but Sixers have players to realize it

'Potential' is a dangerous word, but Sixers have players to realize it

On paper, a lot of teams in the NBA look awfully good.

Both L.A. teams look like juggernauts. The Warriors lost Kevin Durant, but they’re still the Warriors. The Bucks have the reigning MVP and perhaps the deepest roster in the NBA.

Then there are the Sixers, who have as much potential as any team. Their starting five could be the best in the league. One prominent statistical model even gives them the best chance to win the Finals.

But the word “potential” can be dangerous. Al Horford may be the steadiest player there is. Joel Embiid is still ascending and has work to do, but is already arguably the best big man in the league. 

The other three members of the starting unit all have to tap into their full potential for the Sixers to accomplish their goals.

Does anyone in the league have more to prove than Ben Simmons? It seems weird typing that sentence for a 22-year-old who’s won Rookie of the Year and already made an All-Star team, but here we are. Simmons was given his rookie max extension Monday — which was 100 percent the right move — but questions still linger over his jump shot. He’s been working with famed trainer and shooting coach Chris Johnson in Los Angeles this summer. He also has decided not to play for the Australian national team in the FIBA World Cup so that he can focus on getting prepared for the NBA season.

Recently, Tobias Harris joined Simmons for a workout in L.A. and he came away impressed with Simmons’ progress.

“We played a lot of 1-on-1. He’s in the gym religiously every day – grinding, getting better. He’s in great shape,” Harris said at a press conference last Friday. “Everyone was trying to figure out why I was guarding him at the three-point line. It was really because he hit two of them. I dared him to hit two of them and he hit two in a row that’s why I was there. He’s made big improvements on his game. His jump shot is looking really good. He has confidence to shoot it. I just kept telling him there, even in these workouts when you’re playing, have the confidence to shoot them and don’t’ get discourage when you miss.”

Harris is another player with something to prove after being given the richest contract in franchise history. GM Elton Brand gave up a haul to acquire the 27-year-old from the Clippers and the results were mixed.

Harris came out on fire with the Sixers, averaging over 20 points a game and shooting 40 percent from three in his first 13 games. He then really struggled down the stretch, averaging 16.1 points a game and hitting only 23 percent of his threes. He was also inconsistent during the team’s postseason run.

Still, there’s plenty of optimism surrounding Harris’ fit with the team — especially with Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick gone. He admitted that uncertainty surrounding his role affected his play, but these new pieces could unlock more of his potential. Harris had a borderline All-Star season and was one of the most prolific shooters in the league in a more featured role with the Clippers. He’s improved every season he’s been in the NBA and there’s hope that ascension will continue.

Harris hopes that ascension continues in Philadelphia — and only Philadelphia.

“Everybody knows over the course of my career I've been in a lot of situations,” Harris said. “Hearing in my meeting the possibility of getting these guys that are sitting up here with me was also one of the most appealing things in the pitch. For me, it was just a win-win, to come here in a situation where I can continue to develop and to be somewhere for many years to come. I'm excited for that and, obviously I signed a five-year deal, so I'll hopefully finish my career here, God willing."

It makes sense that Harris would be excited for the arrival of Josh Richardson. Other than Richardson proving to be a strong two-way player, the two have an existing relationship. While they missed playing with each other by a season at Tennessee, the two still crossed paths. Harris was stuck in Tennessee during the NBA lockout in his draft year so he took the incoming freshman Richardson out to dinner. 

Harris remembers an assistant coach saying around that time that Richardson “was going to be a pro” because of how hard he worked. It was a rather bold statement when you consider Richardson was a two-star recruit coming out of high school, but he made that unnamed coach look awfully prophetic.

Richardson, a second-round pick in 2015, had to earn his way onto the floor in the NBA with his tenacious defense and high energy. Much like Harris, Richardson’s offensive game has grown every season in the league. At times, he ran the Heat’s offense last season as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll and took the most threes of his career by a healthy margin — though he was only right around league average percentage wise.

While the team looks like a defensive monster, spacing is still a question mark. The Sixers are relying on all three players — and really even Embiid and Horford — to have the best shooting seasons of their careers.

"I look forward to training camp, figure all that out,” Brand said. “Defensively, of course that's where we're going to hang our hat. We should be one of the top defensive teams in the league, in my opinion. But we'll figure out the spacing. We have a lot of versatility. Al Horford can space, Joel Embiid can space, Ben's working on his game, Josh is a high-level scorer and Tobias is a high-level shooter and scorer also, so we're looking forward to making that work in training camp. But it's going to take some time. It should take some time."

With how much work Simmons, Harris and Richardson have put in, all that potential could be realized.

That could make the Sixers a very dangerous team.

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