The Philadelphia 76ers shouldn’t be opposed to taking risks. That’s how you build championship teams.
Many have argued that the 2018 offseason is the most important summer in Philadelphia 76ers franchise history. That might be an overstatement, but there is quite a bit riding on the organization’s impending success (or failure) in July.
LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are all somewhat obtainable. Attracting LeBron isn’t as likely as it once seemed, while PG13 seems almost entirely off the table. But Kawhi could be the key to changing that — an elite, top-five NBA player who the Spurs would like to send east.
If the Sixers can get Kawhi, their chances to luring LeBron increase. The two have discussed playing together already, while the Sixers — unlike, say, the Lakers — already have Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Another budding star and the best center in the league.
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Even if LeBron doesn’t join Kawhi in Philly, the former Finals MVP would make the Sixers instant favorites in the East. If healthy, Leonard is arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA. He’s also one of the most effective, and efficient, individual scorers out there.
He fills every hole the Sixers need plugged, and then some. There are obvious concerns about trading for him, whether it be health issues or his contract. But at the end of the day, the NBA is a risk-taking league. To win a championship, you need to roll the dice.
Leonard has one year left on his deal, and there’s no guarantee that he would re-sign with the Sixers. He reportedly favors L.A. on the trade market, while New York and other big markets could feasibly make a run at him in 2019.
But people who act as though Philly has no shot at retaining him lack context. Just look at the Paul George situation — an L.A. native who has long dreamed about playing for the Lakers, but might end up staying in OKC and signing a five-year extension.
The Sixers are a much bigger market than OKC and they give Leonard a better opportunity to compete for a title. His uncle, who seems to have a significant influence on his decision-making, is from New Jersey. He also has experience playing under Brett Brown, which should simplify his transition.
If the Sixers make the decision to trade for Leonard, there is a very real chance that he stays beyond next season. It’s certainly a risk, but one that’s worth taking for one of the best players in the league.
That’s something else that people tend to forget. Kawhi, at his absolute best, is one of the NBA’s truly elite talents. He’s not LeBron, but he’s on the same plane of existence as Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and James Harden.
He’s one of the few players in the league capable of single-handedly dragging teams to competitive status. Pairing him with Simmons and Embiid would create one of the most dynamic trios in the league, and perhaps one that can hang with the likes of Golden State and Houston.
The injury risk is another huge concern, and rightfully so. Leonard is entering the final year of his contract and he hasn’t played consistently in over a year. Nagging injuries are always worrisome, and whatever currently ails him seems to have played a big role in his desire to depart San Antonio.
On top of that, Leonard has only played 70+ games in two of his seven seasons in the league. That isn’t the most promising history, regardless of contract situation and ability. There is serious risk, on multiple fronts, with trading for Kawhi.
Once again, though, it comes down to upside. The upside of adding somebody with Leonard’s talent, if he does inevitably get healthy, is an appearance in the NBA Finals. Heck, under the right circumstances, it could mean a Finals victory. You don’t take that kind of opportunity lightly.
With all of that said, the Sixers should have certain limitations when dealing for Kawhi. If the Lakers do indeed have a ‘godfather’ offer on the table, Brett Brown and company won’t be able to match it — and that’s fine.
Simmons and Embiid are obviously off the table, but Markelle Fultz seems to be trending in that direction. In the trade proposals reported by Sports Illustrated on Thursday, the Sixers’ most recent No. 1 pick wasn’t included in any discussions.
That speaks to many things, ranging from Fultz’s progression this summer to the potential he still possesses. The talent that got him drafted first overall is still there. It’s just a matter of him getting right, both mentally and physically, something the Sixers seem confident in.
The Spurs are reportedly enamored with Robert Covington and Dario Saric, and that’s a deal the Sixers should immediately pull the trigger on. Cov and Dario are both solid pieces, but neither is worth passing on Kawhi Leonard. Throwing in the Miami first-round pick from the Zhaire Smith trade is also fine. That’s a deal the Sixers should immediately accept, with minimal hesitation.
Including Fultz is such a deal is where the Sixers should hesitate. Fultz is probably the Sixers’ most valuable asset outside the current two-man core, even more so than Saric. His defensive upside, combined with playmaking and scoring prowess, still leaves his All-Star ceiling in tact.
If the jumper does come around — another example of betting on upside — Fultz can be another elite guard next to Simmons, plugging some of the holes Kawhi is coming to fix. Fultz will never reach Leonard’s level of play, but he might be one asset too many.
In the event that the Spurs demand Fultz and Dario, though, the Sixers would still be wise to consider the deal. Kawhi is too good not to consider, even if the deal seems extreme. Regardless of the long-term outcome, you’d still have Embiid and Simmons to fall back on.
The variability of potential outcomes in chasing Kawhi Leonard is vast. There are arguably more negative possibilities than positive ones. But in a league where the goal is taking down Golden State — arguably the best team of all-time — taking risks is a necessity.
Kawhi, with or without LeBron, gives the Sixers the potential to become truly elite. There are valuable assets that the Sixers would have to give up, but they wouldn’t run the well dry either. Zhaire Smith, Jonah Bolden and, ideally, Markelle Fultz are still upside-laden pieces.
Trading for Kawhi should be at the top of the Sixers’ priority list.