PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — These next two or three weeks could bring significant, franchise-altering changes to the 76ers and to the NBA landscape, and they could also bring nothing.
Right now, the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes is taking place, with the San Antonio Spurs entertaining suitors. The Sixers are certainly in the running, and if they could land Leonard, possibly by parting with Dario Saric and Robert Covington as well as a future first-round pick to the Spurs, it’s a risk. The Spurs have reportedly targeted the Boston Celtics’ rising start Jayson Tatum, with Kyrie Irving possibly in the mix, too.
Whichever team lands Leonard, they could also land the grand prize in this NBA offseason’s free agent market—LeBron James, whose deadline is Friday, June 29 as to whether or not he’ll stay with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Oklahoma City’s Paul George, another major free agent-get, has already declared himself to be on the open market.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in play, with reports stating the offer to the Spurs could include Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram for Leonard, who has expressed he wants to play in Los Angeles and will be entering the last year of a contract, meaning if he’s not signed by the team he’s traded to, if he’s traded this offseason, he’ll be a costly rental. But getting Leonard could be the lure the Lakers need to entice James to the West Coast.
“I would think the Sixers have the best package to offer, because they have numerous draft picks and young players,” said Jon Johnson, KYW’s Sixers’ beat man and one of the foremost local authorities on the Sixers. “I don’t think the Spurs would want to deal with the Lakers, because they would be giving the Lakers, which plays within their [Western] conference, a super team, essentially, while pounding your own franchise for the next couple of years.
“Plus, Brett Brown and Monty Williams, the new Sixers’ assistant coach, have a great relationship with Kawhi Leonard, which has to factor into any decision the Spurs makes. If the Sixers and Spurs make the deal, the Sixers better make sure that they can lock Leonard up to a deal, because it would be a big mistake.”
Houston may not be able to afford James, who has a leaning to Los Angeles, where he owns a couple of homes. The scenario that’s been placed out there is George and James signing with the Lakers, who haven’t made the playoffs the last five years after going 35-47 this season, their best finish since 2012-13.
“But even if that happens, they still won’t beat Golden State,” Johnson said. “If James signed with LA, he’s conceding he won’t make the NBA finals. If LeBron were to go to LA just on his own, with the hope someone else comes along, that tells me basketball isn’t that important to him anymore.
“Brett Brown is going to do everything in his power to get Kawhi Leonard here. He has the inside track, because of his relationship with the Spurs. But my gut feeling is that Kawhi Leonard won’t get traded until the trade deadline during the season, and nothing happens at all this summer.”
Boston is the scary player here. The Celtics has a lot to offer, but will Danny Ainge be willing to part with Tatum for a high-profile rental like Leonard. The feeling here says he won’t. The other undercurrent is that the Sixers may not land anyone.