BY CHRIS LEWIS
NBA free agency begins this week. Free agents can sign with new teams at 10 p.m. MT Saturday. The various NBA insiders have much better information than I do about where the players might go. Therefore, instead of me guessing where the three top names will end up, I figured it’s be better to highlight which of the player/team matches would be the most fun for me. However, I wanted to keep some element of realism to the exercise.
LeBron and Paul George > Clippers – I mentioned I wanted to keep this realistic. There’s so much connecting LeBron to LA at this point, that it seems like the only realistic option. Keep in mind, I’m a Sixers fan, so for me to admit that he’s not coming is significant. That said, of all the three available star players (LeBron, George and Leonard), I think LeBron is the worst fit in Philly. He’ll be 34 next season, making his timeline significantly different than Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Adding LeBron adds in an immediate win-now mentality that has proven to wear out other franchises. If it causes the Sixers to make short-sighted moves, compromising the work done to set the team up for long term success, then it’s not the best move. As great as LeBron is, eventually his play will tail off and adding him and making the other moves to keep him happy shortens the Sixers window to match that of Golden State. Meanwhile, the Lakers aren’t as far advanced in their rebuild as the Sixers. Plus, Los Angeles is thirsty for a star. Magic Johnson said he’d resign if he doesn’t deliver one in the next two years. It makes more sense for them to cave to LeBron, give him the keys to the franchise, and let him see what he can do in the next two seasons. It’ll be entertaining, it will be healthy for the league, and it will deliver the greatest content for social media and sports talk. However, as a fan of LeBron, I’d be disappointed to see him in a Lakers jersey. LeBron has always been about player empowerment, and creating his own brand. I’d rather see him create his own project than join the long line of great players that have worn a Lakers jersey. A championship there is just one of many that they’ve won, not unique. Fortunately, Los Angeles has another option. The Clippers could give him the off-court benefits of being in LA, while allowing himself to be the independent star that he’s always been. Paul George is from Los Angeles, actually grew up a Clippers fan. LeBron and George combined with other pieces to compete for the first ever Clippers championship would be more fun to me than watching him be just another Laker.
Kawhi Leonard > Sixers – Kawhi isn’t a free agent, so he needs to be acquired via trade. But Kawhi’s camp has asked the Spurs to trade him, and San Antonio seems to be listening to offers according to ESPN. He missed all but nine games last year with a mysterious quad injury. The Spurs doctors felt like Kawhi was healthy enough to play, while Kawhi’s camp didn’t agree and found their own doctors to handle his injury. The disconnect between the team and player with the injury led to a rift between the two parties, leading to the trade demand. At the very least, the people around Kawhi seem to be high-maintenance. Also, we still don’t know whether he’s healthy, or whether this is a reoccurring injury. Plus, Leonard has only one year left on his contract, and ESPN reported that Leonard has made it clear that he wants to play for an L.A. team as soon as possible. For all those reasons, Kawhi is a risky player to acquire, with the Lakers the only team positioned to assume the risk (thanks to the destination preference). So, why would I want my favorite team to make a move? First of all, he’s a top-six player in the NBA when healthy. Players that good are rarely available for any reason. Secondly, with him diminishing his own trade value, there’s a chance he can be acquired with a discounted price, one that the Sixers are uniquely qualified to meet. With Gregg Popovich at the tail end of his coaching career, there’s a chance that the Spurs would rather have the productive role players with lower-ceiling that the Sixers could offer than the less productive but high-ceiling young players that the Lakers would be willing to part with. If the Sixers could acquire Kawhi by offering the Saric, Covington, and a draft pick (what Sports Illustrated reported the Sixers might offer) I wouldn’t be against it. An Embiid-Simmons-Leonard-Fultz core would be a devastating young core of players 26 or younger (hopefully Fultz gets fixed). The hope would be Kawhi is healthy and would change his mind about L.A. As long as those risks are baked into the price of acquiring him, then you pull the trigger on the trade and trust the culture that was built during the 52 win season last year could keep him long term.
Chris Lewis, the play-by-play voice of Boise State women’s basketball and Olympic Sports, co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk with Bob & Chris weekdays from 1-3 p.m. on KTIK 93.1 FM The Ticket. He can be found @ChrisLewisTweet (Twitter).