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Looking at Sixers' top competition for LeBron

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Photo: NBCSP

Looking at Sixers' top competition for LeBron

With The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reporting that he keeps hearing the Sixers, Rockets, Lakers and Cavs are the four teams on LeBron James' free-agency wishlist, let's take a look at feasibility and fit of the Sixers' top three competitors for The King's services:

Rockets
Houston is the favorite in Vegas to land LeBron. The Rockets already have two superstars and an emerging, high-level rim protector in Clint Capela. Houston is a big market and the Rockets may even have a chance to beat the Warriors this season, without LeBron.

From a titles standpoint, the Rockets make the most sense for The King. It's a ready-made championship situation, but it wouldn't be simple building that roster.

To make room for LeBron, the Rockets would have to find a taker for Ryan Anderson's $20 million annual salary. That won't be easy and will almost certainly require Houston to part with a first-round pick or two.

The Rockets will also likely have to find takers for the contracts of P.J. Tucker and Nene, two valuable role players but obviously pieces you're OK with losing for the likes of an all-time great.

From a salary cap perspective, the Rockets could put together a roster including LeBron, James Harden, Chris Paul, Capela and maybe Eric Gordon, but the rest of the team would have to be filled out with minimum types of contracts.

Lakers
LeBron has two homes in Los Angeles, and the Lakers now have cap space for two huge contracts thanks to the Jordan Clarkson-Larry Nance-Isaiah Thomas trade with Cleveland.

Those are the pros for L.A.

The cons are how it would all fit.

The Lakers' best-case offseason scenario would be signing both LeBron and Paul George. Let's imagine for a second that happens. You'd have a Lakers team featuring LeBron, George, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball. With zero rim protection.

Obviously, in this scenario, a trade would be necessary — involving Ball, Kuzma or maybe both. The Lakers would need more shooting and inside defense, and Ball's best quality (distribution) would be a lot less necessary with LeBron.

Would a team like that win a championship in a loaded West? Probably not. LeBron has to realize that Houston aside, staying in the Eastern Conference gives him the best chance at advancing deep into the playoffs every season. 

Cavs
If the Cavs have an inkling LeBron is staying, they'd trade that coveted Nets lottery pick for an established star. 

But even with another established star — whoever that may be — this is a fading Cavs team. Kevin Love's trade value isn't nearly as high as it once was. 

The Cavs also have so much money committed to so many guys that they lack roster flexibility. If LeBron, Love and the cast of role players return, along with whoever they trade the Nets pick for, that's still probably a 50-plus win team in the East but not a surefire favorite with the Celtics, Raptors and Sixers all getting better.

These four teams sure look like the only four legit contenders for LeBron, but anyone who claims to know what he will decide at this point is full of it.

Report: Sixers still eyeing trade up, but reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric

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Report: Sixers still eyeing trade up, but reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric

We’re counting down the hours now until the 2018 NBA draft, which means all of the chatter surrounding teams is heading into overdrive.

That includes the Sixers, who are reportedly still attempting to move up the draft board.

Per a report Tuesday by Sports Illustrated’s Jake Fischer, the Sixers are continuing to make calls about moving into the top five. However, “they have offered packages of picks, but have thus far rebuked including oft-mentioned Robert Covington and Dario Saric,” according to the report.

There has still been no mention of exactly which prospect the Sixers are interested in trading up for since former Cavaliers GM David Griffin made the claim during a radio interview last week (see story).

With six total selections in Thursday’s draft, including Nos. 10 and 26 in the first round, it makes sense that the Sixers would offer draft picks first in any potential trade.

However you feel about the streaky Covington, the team was high enough on the All-NBA defender last season to lock him into a long-term deal while Saric has proven to be a rock-solid contributor that keeps improving every day.

We’ll see if the Sixers ease off those demands as we get even closer to the draft.

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NBA draft profile: Miami G Bruce Brown Jr.

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NBA draft profile: Miami G Bruce Brown Jr.

Bruce Brown Jr.

Position: Guard

Height: 6-5

Weight: 195

School: Miami

After his freshman year, Bruce Brown Jr. would have been a no-brainer first-round pick and most likely a lottery selection. Now, it would be a big surprise to see him go in the lottery, and even the first round is far from a sure thing.

There are two main reasons for Brown’s stock falling, the first of which is the regression in his play as a sophomore, especially his shooting. Brown’s three-point percentage dropped from 34.7 percent to 26.7 percent and his free-throw shooting went from 74.4 percent to 62.9 percent. The second reason is the left foot injury Brown suffered in late January, which caused him to miss the second half of the season.

There don’t appear to be any serious concerns about the injury for Brown, who worked out with the Sixers Wednesday. But questions about his shot and why he couldn’t build upon an impressive freshman year are certainly lingering.

Strengths
Brown is an outstanding athlete and competitor. He bench pressed 225 pounds 17 times at the combine, the most by any guard, and that's not at all surprising given the strength with which way he plays. He’s an intense, physical defender with a knack for turning defense into offense. For a guard, he’s an exceptional rebounder, posting 7.1 boards per contest in 2017-18. Offensively, Brown is a solid passer who’s comfortable in pick-and-rolls, which he ran a lot at Miami. He looks capable of being a secondary NBA ball-handler.

Weaknesses
His sophomore shooting dip is obviously a major worry. That 62.9 percent free throw percentage and the fact Brown made only 7 of 46 attempts from NBA three-point range last season are ominous signs. Like his teammate Lonnie Walker IV, Brown was inconsistent on offense. In 19 games last season, he shot 50 percent or better from the floor nine times and 25 percent or worse seven times. Brown has a variety of dribble moves, but his handle isn’t the most tight or fluid. His pull-up game, in terms of shot selection, rhythm and balance, has a lot of room for improvement.  Given how talented an athlete he is, Brown isn’t a great finisher (he shot 58.5 percent at the rim last season) and he doesn’t seem to like using his left hand.

NBA comparison
Brown has said he models his game after Russell Westbrook. He definitely has a little bit of Westbrook in him, especially with his intensity and explosiveness. He also seems to have some Westbrook-like confidence – he thinks he’s the best guard in the draft. And like Westbrook, Brown left college after his sophomore season without a great offensive résumé.

All that said, it’s not fair (or at all realistic) to compare Brown to a player who has averaged a triple-double in back-to-back seasons. Lance Stephenson is a much better comparison. Like Brown, Stephenson is a strong defender, excellent guard rebounder and subpar shooter. It’s important to note, however, that Brown won’t come with any of Stephenson’s notorious, ear-blowing antics.

How he’d fit with Sixers
On the defensive end, Brown will help any NBA team immediately. With his ability to guard one through three at a high level, he’ll have a role off the bench. There’s no doubt Brown’s defense and rebounding would make the Sixers better in two areas where they’re already strong. His athleticism would also be a boost for a second unit lacking in that department last season. 

Draft projection
Because of his injury history and disappointing sophomore campaign, Brown has a slightly wider range than most prospects. He’s expected to be taken in the late first or early second round. He could be an option at No. 26 for the Sixers, or he could be a potential steal at No. 38 or No. 39.  

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