Why concerns about LeBron James' fit with Sixers are overblown

Why concerns about LeBron James' fit with Sixers are overblown

The conventional wisdom about LeBron James is that he automatically makes any team he’s on much better. His eight straight NBA Finals appearances suggest that’s an accurate perception.

However, with free agency officially getting underway Sunday at midnight, it’s worth analyzing how exactly he’d fit with the Sixers. 

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who has covered James throughout his career, doesn’t think James would be the best match with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and company. 

“I would have to hear from Joel Embiid if I were LeBron James,” Windhorst said Friday on First Take. “I don’t see the basketball match for LeBron in Philadelphia. You would need Joel Embiid to be sitting at the table with LeBron and say, ‘I’m ready to go stand in the corner like you heeded Chris Bosh and Kevin Love to do over the last eight years’ to make this work.”

That would be a pretty radical change from Embiid. It also doesn’t seem like it would be necessary for him to totally shift his game to accommodate James the way Windhorst suggests.

James has never played with a dominant offensive post player like Embiid before. He’s played with guys like Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Shaquille O’Neal at the tail end of his career, Anderson Varejao and Joel Anthony, none of whom are in Embiid’s league as far as the ability to score in the post.

Embiid was second in the NBA last season with 9.1 post-up points per game. And his 0.97 points per possession on post-ups were in the 75th percentile for the league. The Sixers’ offense often revolved around him for a reason. While James is a player who needs a lot of the ball, he should be more than capable of adjusting to having a go-to scorer in the low post. In fact, given how gifted a passer he is, you’d think playing with Embiid would enhance his game, not be a reason to eliminate the Sixers as a possible destination.

Embiid did attempt 3.1 three-point shots per game last season, and though he said outside shooting is a part of his arsenal, his focus is on being “a beast inside." He wouldn’t have to drastically alter the way he plays if James came to Philadelphia.

“And then you have the reality that the two young perimeter players that the Sixers have, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons, are guys that need the ball and cannot shoot,” Windhorst continued. “LeBron plays his best with guys who can play off the ball and can shoot. To me, while it’s very attractive as a concept, I don’t think basketball-wise it makes sense.”

This point is absolutely valid. James has historically thrived when surrounded by three-point shooters like Love and Kyle Korver. That’s one reason why a three-and-D guy like Mikal Bridges was an attractive player in the draft. Simmons’ usage rate of 23.5 percent last season would likely fall if he played with James, and the development of both his and Fultz’s jumpers would be crucial.

Still, if it’s best for the team, you’d think James might be willing to play off the ball more. He wouldn’t let offensive weapons like Simmons and Embiid go to waste.

“I think LeBron’s already kind of decided what his choices are here,” Windhorst said, “because I’ve talked to several teams who have requested meetings for LeBron, including some teams who I think have some pretty creative ideas, and they have been told, ‘No.’ So I think LeBron is probably pretty focused on Los Angeles or Cleveland, but I do think Philadelphia, if Joel Embiid was willing to sit down, I think LeBron would be willing to listen.”

The Sixers are definitely not the perfect fit for James. There are kinks they’d have to work out — remember the struggles of the 2010-11 Miami Heat, when James first teamed up with Bosh and Dwyane Wade? But a player as talented as James should have no problem thriving with Simmons and Embiid. To suggest Embiid would need to stand in the corner to make things work is absurd.

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Sixers pursued 'high-level, accomplished' executives before hiring Elton Brand as general manager

Sixers pursued 'high-level, accomplished' executives before hiring Elton Brand as general manager

In the wake of the absurd scandal involving Bryan Colangelo and burner Twitter accounts, the Sixers searched for their next general manager and handed Brett Brown the job on an interim basis. Eventually, they promoted Elton Brand.

He was certainly not their first choice, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

“When they opened that job up, when Colangelo was gone and before they promoted Elton Brand, they went after any number of high-level, accomplished executives around the league,” Wojnarowski said on The Woj Pod. “They were willing to offer Daryl Morey, Bob Meyers, Dennis Lindsey, Sam Presti. There may have been more.”

Brand’s only previous executive experience was as the GM of the Sixers’ G-League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats (formerly the 87ers). It makes sense that the Sixers would have preferred more established candidates.

The Sixers were “rebuffed” in their efforts to hire Morey, The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported in July of 2018. A mentor to former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie, Morey won the NBA’s Executive of the Year Award in 2018 and is still GM of the Rockets. 

Stein also reported the Sixers “commissioned a clandestine run at prying Myers away from the Warriors that was likewise rebuffed.” Myers has served as the Warriors’ general manger since 2012 and won three championships with the team.

Lindsey is the executive vice president of basketball operations for the Jazz, while Presti has been GM of the Thunder franchise since 2007. 

The Sixers had an interview with former Cavs and current Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin but, according to The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey, “felt he wasn’t a good fit for their front-office structure” and wanted to “make collaborative decisions instead of a GM who will have the final say.”

In July of 2018, Sixers managing partner Josh Harris told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Amy Fadool, “It’s very consensus-oriented, there’s a lot of people in the dialogue, and we want to make sure we find the right fit for that.”

Wojnarowski noted on the podcast that Harris and the Sixers’ leadership above Brand remain influential.

“Ownership’s got a lot of say in Philly," he said. “You’ve got a group of owners that are involved, that are there. How many team have multiple owners courtside each corner of the arena, each night?

Brand has made several major moves since assuming the GM job in September of 2018, including trading for Jimmy Butler, shipping Markelle Fultz to Orlando, trading for Tobias Harris and then signing him to a five-year, $180 million deal this summer, and giving Al Horford a four-year contract with $97 million guaranteed. At 37-23 this season and 9-21 on the road, Brand’s roster has not performed the way he envisioned. 

Wojnarowski and Max Kellerman also talk about expectations for the rest of the Sixers' season, the history of Sam Hinkie’s Process and more on the podcast, which you can listen to here

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Tobias Harris is blocking out outside noise about big contract, trying to carry Sixers

Tobias Harris is blocking out outside noise about big contract, trying to carry Sixers

When you’re given the largest contract in the history of a storied franchise like the Sixers in the city of Philadelphia, you’re going to face scrutiny.

Tobias Harris has gotten his fair share since inking a five-year, $180 million near-max deal this past offseason. The 27-year-old hasn’t consistently provided the scoring needed to complement Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

Though at times, like Thursday night against the Knicks, Harris has looked like the player GM Elton Brand traded for and then chose to re-sign as a franchise cornerstone. 

With Embiid and Simmons both on the shelf, this is the version the Sixers need to see a lot more of.

“At the beginning of the game, had some good looks going,” Harris said. “We had good pop to our flow, to our offense, and was able to get some just in-the-flow plays. Once I'm able to get into the flow and the ball is able to move around, that's where I'm at my best. And I just carried that throughout the game.”

Harris, who was one off his Sixers high with 34 points, has said since he arrived before last season’s trade deadline that he flourishes in systems with good ball movement. That’s likely why he’s shot the ball better from three with Simmons on the floor (37.5) than off (29.5).

Simmons leads the NBA in assists on threes whereas with Embiid, his methodical approach in the post can make the offense stagnant at times. With both off the floor, Harris will have to do more to get his own shot.

Brett Brown admitted after Thursday’s game that he’s simplified the offense with his two All-Stars out. Against the Knicks, Harris just attacked mismatches all night, punishing smaller defenders in the post and driving on New York’s bigs.

“With those two out, we'll have to find our identity of how we're going to play,” Harris said. “You saw tonight, we had a lot of just wide-open looks out of the initial pin down action either between Al [Horford] and [Josh Richardson] or Al [Horford] and [Alec] Burks so we got a lot of easy ones going and just were able to go at different mismatches that we felt.”

The trio of Harris, Horford and Richardson struggled in Cleveland, going 12 of 35. They all had bounce-back games of some sort, but it was Harris who likely got the most heat and responded in the biggest way.

Does he feel like it’s his responsibility to carry the team right now because of the large investment the they made on him?

“I would be naive to think there’s not a hint of that,” Brown said. “I think he’s really competitive and if you paid him a nickel or $170 million, I think that you’re going to get a highly competitive player. ... He’s very prideful. That’s why he’s good. 

“He’s trying to do his part obviously to earn his keep, but I think it’s way deeper than that. I think he just wants to be on a winning team for a long time and try to help steer this program to trying to find, at some point, a championship.”

With the fans, there's a sentiment of Harris being overpaid, so not much is made when he hangs 34 on a bad Knicks team. It makes sense. Fans would rather root for an underdog like Shake Milton, who's come out of nowhere to earn important minutes.

Harris has become a leader and a respected player in the Sixers’ locker room. That’s his only concern.

“There's obviously outside noise that comes involved with [signing a big contract],” Harris said. “I always look at it like the only noise that really carries weight for me is noise in our locker room, and with the guys on our team and coaching staff. I truly believe that you can ask every single one of them in the locker room, the value that I bring to this team, on and off the floor, and they will vouch for that. That's the credibility that I go with. ... So I just try to do my job on a daily basis, be a professional every day and go to work.”

With 22 games left and the Sixers trying to claw their way up the East with their All-Stars banged up, Harris will have ample opportunity to show his value to everyone else.

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