How do Sixers stack up in competition for LeBron James?

How do Sixers stack up in competition for LeBron James?

So the mad news bomber, Adrian Wojnarowski, dropped some napalm Sunday morning. The ESPN NBA insider extraordinaire is reporting that the Sixers will meet with LeBron James' representatives in Los Angeles on Sunday. James apparently will not be on hand.

What does this mean?

So, you’re saying there’s a chance?

First off, they are in the game. This may not be much of a consolation prize if the Sixers don’t reel in the biggest fish in the sea, but you’ve got to be in it to win it. It also speaks to how far the club has come from a 10-win laughingstock to one of less than a handful of teams he would even consider.

Kawhi tie

Marc Stein of The New York Times is reporting part of the Sixers' sales pitch to James is they believe they have a real chance to land Kawhi Leonard in a deal with the Spurs. With Paul George opting not to go home to L.A. and staying put in Oklahoma City, Leonard could be the piece that sways James. Both the Sixers and the Lakers have the assets and cap space to pull off a Leonard deal. The Spurs hold the cards here for now. The Lakers could offer Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and more. The Sixers have reportedly discussed a trade package internally that involves Dario Saric, Robert Covington and Miami's 2021 unprotected first-rounder. Slight advantage: Lakers.

Brett Brown spent 15 years in the Spurs organization working alongside Gregg Popovich and with Leonard for a couple of years. There is a strong relationship there on both fronts. Also, San Antonio may not want to move Leonard in the same conference. Advantage: Sixers.

If you use the George/OKC blueprint, it’s worth the gamble of giving up quality players and picks just to get Leonard (who can opt out of the final year of his contract next summer) in-house to show him what this franchise and city are all about (see story). Playing alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, being coached by Brown and embraced by a city that is obsessed with this basketball team could be intoxicating enough to make Leonard want to stay in Philly long term. James believing Leonard to Philly is a legit possibility with Embiid and Simmons, that’s how a possibly made-up mind changes.    

Home-court advantage

Unfortunately for the Sixers, James' decision may not come down to basketball. It may be as simple as he and his family want to live full-time in Los Angeles. If that’s the case, all bets could be off. Conversely, if it is about hoops, winning titles and furthering his legend, James needs to ask himself, if Leonard isn't dealt to the Lakers then how far is he going in the Western Conference with Ingram, Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and possibly a DeMarcus Cousins? Can they even reach a conference final? The East would be an easier path and Simmons, Embiid, Saric, and Markelle Fultz are a better core. Cleveland shouldn't be written off but considering their personnel and cap situation, this has the feel of a two-horse race with the Lakers and the Sixers.

More on the Sixers

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

Undaunted by Sixers' exit, Embiid and Simmons see 'a lot of rings' in future

Undaunted by Sixers' exit, Embiid and Simmons see 'a lot of rings' in future

The Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder prior to the 2008-09 NBA season.

The franchise’s stint in OKC began that season with second-year forward Kevin Durant and a rookie point guard in Russell Westbrook. That young combination took its lumps as the team produced a 23-59 record. 

One year later, the duo got some reinforcements and made a major leap to 50 wins to snag a postseason berth. And just a couple of years after that, Durant and Westbrook guided the Thunder all the way to an NBA Finals appearance.

Fast forward roughly a decade, and the Sixers find themselves in a very similar situation. 

The team has a pair of young stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The Sixers underwent a significant jump in victories from 28 a season ago to 52 in 2017-18. That led to the group’s first playoff run, which ended with Wednesday’s 114-112 Game 5 loss to the Boston Celtics (see game recap).

Even the sting of elimination didn’t prevent the Sixers from realizing their prime position in the league for years to come.

“Me and Ben, we have a lot of room to grow,” Embiid said. “I was thinking about it, just looking at K.D. and Westbrook, what they did their first season together. I think they only won like 28 games (23) or something like that. Looking at what we did, we have a bright future.

“At the end of the game, he (Simmons) came up to me and showed me his hands and he was like, ‘There’s going to be a lot of rings on these.’ I was like for sure, so we’ve got a bright future.”

Embiid believes that positive future would be aided by having roster consistency heading into next season.

“We have a great group of guys,” he said. “I hope they’re all back next year. We understand each other, we play well with each other.”

More than anything, Embiid and the Sixers understand they have more work to do.