Looking at Sixers' top competition for LeBron

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:

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.

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. 

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.

Brett Brown is willing to tinker as he figures out Sixers' offense, reintegrates Joel Embiid

Brett Brown is willing to tinker as he figures out Sixers' offense, reintegrates Joel Embiid

CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s difficult to glean much of value in a basketball sense from a night that was far more about honoring Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and the seven other victims of Sunday’s helicopter crash than about the Sixers’ winning a game.

As far as the Sixers’ 2019-20 season is concerned, though, Joel Embiid returning to play after missing the past nine games because of a torn ligament in the ring finger of his left hand was significant.

Brett Brown said Wednesday that the topic of reintegrating Embiid offensively was “what’s most on my mind.” The Sixers went 6-3 without Embiid, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds vs. the Warriors, though they had a 104.8 offensive rating during that stretch, 28th in the NBA. 

“I like our defense,” Brown said. “I like our spirit. This side of it we hope to grow and get it right.”

Brown had pointed out to the court on Jan. 5 and proclaimed, “This is Joel Embiid’s paint.” While it sounds like that overriding principle hasn’t changed, he seems willing to tinker offensively as he works to best accommodate Embiid, Ben Simmons and his entire team. Simmons was excellent in the absence of Embiid, averaging 21.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists. 

I mean, how can it not?” Brown said of whether the paint was still Embiid’s. “Does it have to be 100 percent of the time? No. We have so many capable post-up players. Go to the second play of the game … you're going to see Joel I think have D'Angelo [Russell] on him … and Ben had Draymond [Green], and Ben had a duck in and could have got it, and Joel was over on the up wing. And Ben looked at it and relinquished it, and Jo sort of went down, sort of to that Malone line, not a deep post catch. 

"So, it's still there, this thing that we're talking about, this spatial thing. … Your question is about the paint. Of course, that's Joel's. That's where his bread is buttered. Last night, I'm bringing him more to an elbow. We can see he's probably easier to go double team at that floor spot. Improving his passing is always on my mind. And so you'll see me bring him up a little bit more to an elbow and play out of that environment as well, but he obviously is our most capable post scorer.

As Brown noted, the Sixers turned to a two-man game Wednesday with Embiid at the elbow and Furkan Korkmaz working around him over and over in the second half. The Sixers have named it “JJ”, Brown said with a smile, for obvious reasons. That action with Embiid and JJ Redick was a staple of the Sixers’ offense over the last two seasons.

Though Brown liked what he saw from that look, he admitted he’s still experimenting offensively.

“We're still playing with stuff and I'm still happy to play with stuff for the next [seven games] before the All-Star break,” he said. “We got Jo back and then at some point you put your hand up and say enough's enough. We got it and we're close.

“If you made me break down how I see the world offensively, I could honestly tell you, ‘I don't like it. We need work. This is on track. This is completely on track. We'll keep it until the playoffs unfold.’ That's how I see it with Joel moving forward as it relates to him coming back in and some of the offensive things we learned from that old group.”

Scott and Horford questionable vs. Hawks 

Al Horford (left knee soreness) and Mike Scott (right knee soreness) are questionable for Thursday night’s game in Atlanta.

The Sixers are 4-0 this season without Horford. Scott hasn’t missed a game yet this year. 

Embiid had 36 points and 13 rebounds on Oct. 28 in the Sixers’ first game of the season against the Hawks, making the game-winning free throws with 5.3 seconds to go.

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Remembering Kobe Bryant's legendary reunion with his high school point guard

Remembering Kobe Bryant's legendary reunion with his high school point guard

Ideas for sports content are a bit like jump shots. Sometimes you’re Kevin Ollie and it’s brick city for days. Then once in a rare while an idea takes on a life of its own, the stars align, the hoop starts to look like an ocean, and you drop 81 and it’s a masterpiece.

That latter was the case for the segment The700Level Show did back in 2015 when Kobe Bryant played his final NBA game in Philadelphia against the Sixers.

We were lucky enough to have The Evster writing and working for the site. Evan was quite the baller in his day and was a point guard for Lower Merion back in the 90’s and teammates with Kobe during the future NBA legend’s junior year there.

It was a great idea to pair Kobe with his old high school point guard but if you’ve ever worked in the sports media world, you know you can absolutely never count on athletes to help deliver on any creative ideas you may be working on.

But you can always shoot your shot.

As you can see in the final product, Kobe and Ev’s relationship was real. The chemistry was still there decades later. All the planning and prep work in the world can’t produce that.

The final video is hilarious. It was one of those rare instances where the final product was even better than you could have hoped for.

Perhaps my favorite part of it all is similar to one my friend Ev will remember as well, “the fact that so many people said we were able to show a side of Kobe they’d never seen.”

Our thoughts go out to Ev and all of those affected by the tragic events in Calabasas.