76ers

Paul George re-signing with Thunder has to give Sixers hope for a potential Kawhi Leonard trade

Paul George re-signing with Thunder has to give Sixers hope for a potential Kawhi Leonard trade

Saturday was a night of celebration for Paul George and not just because he attended an event thrown by Russell Westbrook described as a “summer hype house party.”

George reportedly agreed to a four-year, $137 million contract to remain with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The five-time All-Star announced he was staying in OKC on stage during the party with Westbrook by his side.

While Brett Brown likely didn’t receive an invite, that doesn’t mean the Sixers’ head coach and interim general manager wasn’t also in a celebratory mood.

Sure, the Sixers missed out on one of their superstar targets in free agency, but they may have gained something even greater: hope.

Per ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Sixers are “absolutely still kicking around Kawhi (Leonard) possibilities.” While Lowe was unsure whether the Sixers would increase their initial reported offers, his colleague Adrian Wojnarowski later said on television that so far the team has kept Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons out of any trade talks.

The Sixers are certainly right to be cautious with the core of their team, but it’s going to cost them if they want a player of Leonard’s caliber.

Look no further than George. A year ago when he was shipped from Indiana to Oklahoma City, the Thunder had to part with emerging talents Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Fast-forward a year, Oladipo was just named the league’s Most Improved Player and Sabonis is one of the game’s best young reserves.

As hard as it was, the Thunder said goodbye to that level of talent to acquire another stratosphere of player in George. Despite the Palmdale, California, longstanding desire to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, OKC rolled the dice on a year of playing with Westbrook and being immersed in the Thunder culture to seal George’s decision to stay as a free agent.

It worked, and now the Sixers are eyeing the same storybook scenario with Leonard, who can opt out of his current deal after next season.

Leonard, who hails from Los Angeles, has made it clear behind the scenes that his relationship with the Spurs reached a breaking point and he would like a trade, preferably to the Lakers. San Antonio appears in no rush to ship away the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and even less of a hurry to send him to the Western Conference foe Lakers.

Between players and draft picks, the Sixers would appear to have the pieces to get a Leonard swap finished. Then Brown would bank on his relationship with the swingman, the chance to play with some of the NBA’s best talent and a full year in a budding Sixers culture to sway Leonard into sticking around long term.

Sound familiar?

It came to fruition with George, and the Sixers can only hope their year-long sales pitch would be good enough to get it done with Leonard.

Who knows, this time next year the Sixers could be throwing a “summer hype house party” of their own to celebrate. But the organization would be happy if the quiet superstar simply signed on the dotted line.

More on the Sixers

After lifting up teetering Sixers, Al Horford makes sure to drink in the win

After lifting up teetering Sixers, Al Horford makes sure to drink in the win

The Lakers had cut the Sixers’ lead, once as large as 22 points, down to five Saturday night with 5:19 remaining. The Sixers were teetering, and Al Horford had something to say.

“Coach called a timeout, we went to the bench and I just told the group to stay together,” Horford recalled. “They made a run, and we needed to respond. To that point I felt like we were doing a good job with the game, keeping them at a certain distance. We made some plays there to give us some breathing room and just closed them out.”

Horford made a handful of those plays himself. He scored seven straight points, nailing a contested mid-range jumper, a three and a baseline fadeaway. 

His performance was one of many that earned a shoutout from Brett Brown in the Sixers’ postgame bell ringing ceremony after a 108-91 victory (see observations). 

You've gotta love Horford's reaction. The 33-year-old just stares ahead and takes a sip of his beverage, seemingly unaffected by the whole scene.

For his part, though, Horford thought this was an especially meaningful win for the Sixers against an opponent who entered with a 36-9 record, best in the Western Conference. 

“I said it yesterday, I thought it was a big game coming into it," he said. “And I think it’s a big win. It’s a really big win. Obviously we’re missing some starters, and I just think the way Ben [Simmons] and Tobias [Harris] came out and established it for us and set the tone for our group, I think it went a long way. 

“This a huge win. I know people get caught up, it’s January, it’s whatever — it’s a huge win. And that’s a really good team over there. I’m really proud of our group.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris outduel LeBron James, Anthony Davis in impressive win

Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris outduel LeBron James, Anthony Davis in impressive win

BOX SCORE

With no Joel Embiid or Josh Richardson and LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the vaunted Lakers in town, things didn’t seem to line up well.

Apparently, you can throw everything out the window when the Sixers are at home.

Led by Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, the Sixers took down the best team in the West, 108-91, in a turnover-filled game at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night.

The win improves the Sixers 21-2 at home, tied with the Bucks for best in the NBA, and 30-17 overall. They’ll host the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night (7 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations from the win:

Containing the King

James had five turnovers in the first half and Simmons and Matisse Thybulle were a huge part of that. 

In an early possession when Thybulle got switched onto James, James wisely decided to use his sizeable weight advantage and back the rookie down. To Thybulle’s credit, he hung in there and then was able to use his lightning-quick hands to poke the ball away from James. Thybulle had four steals in the first half.

In the first quarter, Brett Brown stuck to his usual substitution patterns. Then he adjusted and matched Simmons up with James. James is arguably the best player on the planet and he’s going to get his (29 points, eight assists and seven rebounds), but Simmons didn’t make it easy.

James passed Kobe Bryant for third on the NBA's all-time scoring list in third quarter. He nearly sparked a comeback, but the Sixers did enough down the stretch to keep the Lakers at arm's length.

Harris and Simmons carry the load

With Embiid and Richardson out, the Sixers are missing 38.4 points a game. They needed other players to step up and carry the scoring load. Harris and Simmons did just that.

With Simmons attracting much of the attention, Harris took advantage of the various mismatches he had. He muscled the smaller Danny Green. He drove by the bigger Dwight Howard. He hit threes (3 of 8), he was strong in the midrange, he got to the basket — it was a game that truly showed off his scoring versatility.

He finished with 29 points on 10 of 20. 

After a down game in Toronto, this was the version of Simmons we’d seen since Embiid went down. He was decisive, aggressive and attacked the rim with authority. While L.A. was trying to claw back in the game in the fourth, he drove right by Green, outmuscled him and slammed with two hands. He had another big and-one drive on Green with just under three minutes left.

He had 28 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. He did have five of the Sixers' 23 turnovers, but you'll live with that when he's playing like this.

A.D. vs. Horford

Coming in, you figured Anthony Davis and Al Horford would be matched up. It was a fun one to watch. The savvy veteran and 26-year-old superstar were going at each other hard.

It looked like head coach Frank Vogel wanted to attack Horford, but the 33-year-old looked spry and up for the challenge. Davis’ stat line looks good (31 points on 13 of 22), but a lot of that damage came with Horford out. 

With Embiid out, Horford’s play has been up and down. He was definitely up in this one. He had 16 points and nailed a pair of huge threes and a midrange fadeaway with the Sixers clinging to a lead late in the fourth.

Shake up in the starting lineup

Down two starters, Brown started second-year guard Shake Milton. Milton fumbled a Simmons’ pass on a cut to the lane, but that was one of the few things that went wrong.

Milton essentially filled Richardson’s role as the ball handler next to Simmons. They had something going with the dribble handoff early that led to a couple easy baskets.

To his credit, Milton also stood tall as James came at him on a couple drives. It took serious guts. Despite nothing eye-popping on the stat sheet (seven points, nine rebounds, three assists), Milton looked like he belonged out there.

Tough break for Zhaire Smith

Second-year guard Zhaire Smith saw his first NBA action of the 2019-20 season. Unfortunately, he got just under three minutes in before suffering an ankle sprain. He did not return.

It’s a tough break for the 20-year-old who’s already been through so much. The 2018 first-round pick essentially had a redshirt rookie year after suffering a broken foot and a serious allergic reaction. He's spent most of this season in Delaware with the Blue Coats.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers