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.
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.