Dario Saric

Despite Brett Brown connection, Sixers should steer clear of Kawhi Leonard trade

Despite Brett Brown connection, Sixers should steer clear of Kawhi Leonard trade

Brett Brown knows only one way to go about his business in the basketball world: attack.

That is evident from his pace-and-space style of play the Sixers have displayed since he took over as head coach. Now he has vowed to do the same thing as the team’s interim general manager.

“We are completely exploring aggressively all options, and I think we just know we need a little bit more,” Brown said Friday.

It’s evident the Sixers need help to become a championship-level team, but we’re not so sure it should come in the form of a man wearing black and silver hitchhiking his way out of San Antonio.

Kawhi Leonard sent shockwaves around the NBA when he reportedly made it clear he wants a split from the Spurs. Per the reports, Leonard has Los Angeles — specifically the Lakers — as his top destination for a trade.

And while there’s no guarantee the Spurs send the former Finals MVP and two-time All-Star to Hollywood, the Sixers would be better served to stay out of the hunt. That’s because if the quiet superstar has proven anything over the past year, it’s that he can do a lot of damage to an organization without saying a word. 

Leonard missed the first 27 games of 2017-18 with a right quad injury. He returned on a heavy-restriction plan only to play seven contests before suffering a tear in his left shoulder. The swingman played one more game before being shut down indefinitely because of the nagging quad. 

After more rehab and eventually being cleared by the Spurs’ medical staff, Leonard opted to leave the team for a second opinion in New York. He stayed away from San Antonio while getting treatment, which allegedly caused friction within the organization that eventually blew up in a players-only meeting.

That didn’t deter Leonard from his plan. He didn’t suit up again nor did he show support for the squad in its first-round series against the champion Golden State Warriors. (Oh, by the way, Leonard has missed time in three straight seasons because of his right quad and reportedly still isn’t 100 percent).

Now if that’s enough to shake up the locker room of arguably the most stable franchise in all of sports, what impact do you think Leonard’s methods would have on the Sixers’ impressionable roster?

Could it be that Leonard just reached his tolerance level with the legendary head coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs and simply needs a change of scenery? Of course.

But that’s not a risk the Sixers should be willing to take. Not for virtually the only player in recent memory to ever clash with the highly-respected Spurs. Not for a guy that’s willing to potentially walk away from a $219 million supermax extension for a $188 million maximum just to escape to his hometown of L.A.

Certainly not when it could mean parting with key pieces of your core (Dario Saric, Robert Covington and/or Markelle Fultz) in addition to the No. 10 overall pick in the draft. All for what could be a one-year rental player, as Leonard is able to opt out of his current deal after next season.

Surely the Sixers would want a guarantee Leonard plans to stay before pulling the trigger on a trade, but that’s not a handshake agreement they should be willing to trust. Even if old buddy Brown is the one shaking hands with “The Claw.”

“He’s a great guy,” Brown said. “I’ve spent years with him, as you know, in San Antonio. I’m reminded of the recruiting process we went through to identify him and the sort of pain we went through to give up George Hill to move up and target him. He’s good people, he’s obviously an elite talent and I enjoyed my time with Kawhi in San Antonio.”

Things could be even more painful for Brown this time around if he’s not careful.

More on the Sixers

NBA Finals rematch shows Sixers there's no specific way to build contender

NBA Finals rematch shows Sixers there's no specific way to build contender

The NBA Finals are officially set and for a fourth straight year, we’ll see a Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers showdown for the title.

While fans of the league let out a collective yawn at yet another championship rematch, the Sixers should be paying close attention to the participants.

Sure, the Sixers know both the Warriors and Cavaliers have all the ingredients that make up true contenders — great players, veteran leadership, strong coaching, positive culture, etc. But the biggest takeaway should be that there is no specific way to climb the NBA mountaintop.

With an important summer ahead of them, the Sixers have the ability to keep adding to their young core with more draft picks to grow organically or shake up their roster with superstar talent through free agency/trade.

Loyal supporters of “the process” would prefer the first model, one perfected by the Warriors. The Dubs have eight players on their current roster drafted by the club, including perennial All-Stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. That group has blossomed together to reach incredible heights and will now go for a third crown in four years.

It’s a prototype the Sixers could definitely continue to follow with young studs Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric already making their mark in the league.

“We have to figure out what’s the best way that we can continue to develop our core, supplement that core with good veteran experience and players that are going to help them grow and develop, and exercise patience along the way,” Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said earlier this month.

Or … the Sixers could throw that patience right out the window and make a splash for big-name talent. The top target, of course, being LeBron James, who stars for a Cavs squad that features 12 players acquired via free agency or a trade.

“With respect to adding — I’m going to say talent, not free agent — because talent comes in many forms,” Colangelo said. “Talent comes in a possible trade, possible free agency. Both options loom with cap space and flexibility. If the right deal comes along, we’ll certainly pursue it. We will explore any and all options to add that talent. 

“But to say that this group can do it now, they obviously proved they couldn’t.”

And proving it is all that matters in the end.

Whether it’s the Warriors or Cavaliers that finish the Finals hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy while splashing champagne all around, neither side will be worrying about how their roster was constructed to reach that point.

If the Sixers want to have that feeling again for the first time since 1983, they won’t concern themselves with what people think about their plan to assemble the best team either.

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Dario Saric

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USA Today Images

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Dario Saric

Dario Saric

Position: Power forward

Status for 2018-19: Third year of rookie deal ($2,526,840)

Saric in 2017-18
With the arrival of JJ Redick and a healthy Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Saric came off the bench to start the season. That lasted just five games as Saric struggled in that role and Brett Brown looked to shake things up after a 1-4 start.  The second-year Croatian went on to start 73 games.

Saric averaged 14.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 29.6 minutes per game. All of those numbers are slightly better than last season, but his efficiency improved greatly. Saric took the identical amount of field goal attempts per contest the last two seasons, but still saw his scoring average raise by almost two full points. He shot just 31 percent on 4.2 threes a game his rookie season. That percentage jumped to 39 percent on 5.1 attempts. That’s well above league average and extremely promising as the 24-year-old continues to develop.

Saric started off the playoffs on fire, then struggled, and then ended his first playoff run with two massive games. Overall, his numbers looked great (17.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 39 percent from three), but you’d just like to see more consistency. 

Signature game
For Saric, his finest game was his last. In Game 5 against the Celtics, Saric tied a season-high with 27 points. He also added 10 boards and four assists while hitting all three of his shots from three. This after posting 25 points and eight boards during the Sixers’ only win of the series in Game 4. 

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Saric is still on his rookie deal so he comes very cheap. With no international games on his slate this summer, Saric heads into the offseason healthy and should be rested coming into next season. With how much he improved from Year 1 to Year 2, it’ll be intriguing to see what Saric does in Year 3.

Of course what the Sixers do this offseason will have a huge effect on every player, including Saric. He’s been mentioned by more than one outlet as a possible trade asset in a deal for the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. Saric seems like the type of player Gregg Popovich would love, but would the Sixers pull the trigger on a deal including a player that was such a big piece for them?

If the Sixers are able to acquire a superstar without giving up Saric, there’s no reason he shouldn’t continue to excel. He’s proven to be a great complement to the team’s young stars already and brings an edge to his game in addition to his skill set.

On Saric
“What I should work on is more footwork, how to guard smaller guards in some situations with the switching, how to defend a quicker guy. If I talk about my offensive skills, I think I need to improve again more shooting, more one-on-one in the low post, more one-on-one facing from the 3-point line. I think I need to really bring my game, if it’s possible, one level up.”

- Saric on what he needs to work on this offseason