LeBron James is going to be a free agent next summer, as we’re sure you know. Anyone would love to land James, but only a select few teams will be in the running.
If James, who can become a free agent after this season, decides to leave the Cavaliers, he could — and should — consider the 76ers, and executives around the league believe Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo will attempt to sign James.
Wait ... really?
You mean tell me one of the most exciting, young teams to watch could very well add the world’s most dominant basketball player? Apparently so, if Philly has its way.
The 76ers are one of few teams on pace to have gobs of cap space remaining in 2018. Amir Johnson’s $11 million contract comes off Philly’s books this summer, and if they re-sign J.J. Redick to a figure well below his current $23 million payday, the Sixers could get to a contract offer near James’s max of $34 million. They could also sign James and someone else if they let Redick go.
That means Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and LeBron could all be on the same team ... in Philadelphia.
The entire city of Philadelphia just fainted.
But would James to the Sixers work?
James is at the point of his career where playing with guys his age won’t prove fruitful. James turns 33 years old in December. LaMarcus Aldridge is the only other player age 30 or older who is averaging 20 or more points per game.
Most other players in their primes are settled on teams with loaded cap sheets. And even if a player wanted to leave his city — Hi, Paul George. Hi, Carmelo Anthony — his options to join James in free agency would be slim, as few teams will have cap space outright to sign two max players.
Enter the 76ers, the NBA’s second-youngest team with the third least experience. Philly’s process, after enduring years of dark lottery seasons, has bore fruit in the form of Ben Simmons (21), Joel Embiid (23), Markelle Fultz (19), Dario Saric (23), and Robert Covington (26). If James chose the 76ers, he would join a group of budding, young players who are already off to an 11-8 start.
James and Simmons also share the same agent, Rich Paul, who is a lifelong friend of James’.
The 76ers have edge. They’re fun, competitive, and under head coach Brett Brown, they move the ball well. They are currently in sixth place in the East and are just 3.5 games behind Cleveland for third.
James is a fan of Philly’s head coach.
“The organization has done a great job believing in Brett Brown’s system, believing in what he wanted to do and they gave him time,” James said before the Cavaliers beat the Sixers, 113-91, on Nov. 27.
It also makes sense for James to stay in the East. He won’t be able to get top dollar to join James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston, and no team he joins out West has a legitimate shot at dethroning the Warriors or competing with the Rockets (except for a healthy Spurs team).
Staying in the East all but ensures James’ safe return to at least the Eastern Conference Finals, unless the Celtics grow up quickly or Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks supercharge their supporting cast. And for James, joining the budding Sixers eliminates a future foe.
But there are reasons why James to Philly wouldn’t work
Kyrie Irving left James and the Cavaliers for Boston so he could create his own legacy as a star player, not The King’s apprentice. James going to Philadelphia could be disrupting Simmons and Embiid’s opportunity to do the same.
Remember: the comparisons between Simmons and James are real, only Simmons is just a rookie. He can’t shoot, and James is at his best on a court with four shooters around him. James was able to morph into the best player on the planet because the ball was in his hands and he made almost every decision for his team, every night, every year while on the floor.
Going to the 76ers could deprive Simmons — a player cut from James’ cloth — of his chance to do the same, though it could also give the rookie playmaker valuable mentorship under one of the best to ever do it.
At the end of the day, James hasn’t made his mind up yet. “Anytime I’m able to be a free agent or my contract is ending, I’ll approach that when the summer comes,” he said on media day in September.
He’s given almost no clues so far, though he did admit he was “flattered” by a Philadelphia-baed corporation purchasing billboards on a Cleveland highway.
His decision probably hinges on two things: how the Cavaliers fare in the playoffs this season and what he wants out of the remainder of his career.
Cleveland revamped its team at the trade deadline by bringing in George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., and Jordan Clarkson. Morale was low in the locker room and on the court the days leading up to that moment, thanks in large part to Isaiah Thomas’ slow recovery from offseason hip surgery. Cleveland is 4-2 since the trades, though one of those wins was a less-than-convincing escape at home against the lowly Nets.
For now, we can only wait for The Decision 3. There’s no telling where James could end up. Zillgitt also reports that the Spurs and Rockets are in the mix, but are long shots. The Lakers still loom, especially after clearing enough cap space for two max-salary players in trading Clarkson and Nance to Cleveland.
But if that decision is Philly, boy, the East should be worried.