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July 21, 2017

The All-LeBron James Sixers Mailbag

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When I sent out the call for Sixers Mailbag questions this week, I received a bunch of good ones that we’ll push back to the weekend or early next week. Sorry y’all, have to spread the #content out during the lean portion of the basketball calendar.

For today, I got a bunch of questions about the topic du jour in Sixers Land this past week: the prospect of LeBron James coming to Philadelphia in free agency next offseason. People have been pretty excited about LeBron’s social media activity over the past few days.

And hey, Ben Simmons is firing back Shirley Temple pics:

Even if it’s still a long shot, there are worse ways to spend a Friday than talking about the idea of LeBron James playing basketball in your hometown.

I guess the idea is that the Sixers homegrown core leading the team to an NBA title would better vindicate The Process?

Root for whatever you want, but the idea of not wanting LeBron in Philly is pretty absurd to me. Anytime that you can land the best basketball player in the world on your team, you do it and then subsequently throw a big Welcome Party with a band, dancers, smoke machines and whatever else is available.

Maybe the worry from some people is that The Process becomes a lesser story once a larger-than-life presence in LeBron comes to town. That’s probably true. Guess what, though? The reason that LeBron would be a Sixer is because of the young talent that Sam Hinkie and Bryan Colangelo acquired over the past four years.

The goal is to win a title, and there is nobody in the sport that brings you closer to a title by himself than LeBron James. “Unbridled joy” would be the appropriate reaction in my estimation.

It’s hard to put a number on it. Cleveland lucked out and got the No. 1 pick in 2014 (which meant Kevin Love), but the 2013-14 Cavs were trash. They finished 33-49, Anthony Bennett was a massive bust, and there were major questions about how good both Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson really were. Besides the obvious reasons, that’s why there weren’t too many LeBron-to-Cleveland rumors that season.

But then they added LeBron and Love, made a savvy midseason trade with the Knicks, and voila, the Cavaliers made three straight NBA Finals. LeBron completely changes the outlook of your team.

Burying the lede a bit here, I do agree that LeBron coming to Philly is a long shot. There have been far too many Lakers rumors, and all of the off-court attractions for him seem to be in Los Angeles, where he owns a home and production company.

I also heard Adrian Wojnarowski say something on the radio along the lines of, “If you can’t beat Golden State, maybe he’ll just play where he wants.” That would likely be Los Angeles.

That said, the Western Conference has one super juggernaut and is shaping up to be a bloodbath outside of Golden State as well. If the goal is to compete for a fourth ring, it’s much easier to do so going through the Eastern Conference. LeBron is very aware of this, and the Lakers aren’t exactly a great basketball situation at the moment:

•    Lonzo Ball looked very good in summer league, but he’s also still only 19 years old.

•    Brandon Ingram is also still super young, but he struggled mightily as a rookie.

•    They do not own their first-round pick next season.

•    Luol Deng is making $18 million for each of the next three seasons. After attaching D’Angelo Russell just to dump Timofey Mozgov’s contract, I have no idea how they could dump Deng’s salary. They can’t attach their first-round pick, so it honestly might take Ingram.

•    Julius Randle is due an extension next summer, which you probably can’t pay if you want two max slots.

The Lakers might be able to clear two max spots for James and George, but that Deng contract is disastrous. Lonzo and the Lakers’ other young players would have to be really, really good right away.

As far as the Sixers are concerned, a playoff spot and all of Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz would need to show major promise for LeBron to consider Philly. I don’t think he will play for the Sixers — Also, there are other theoretical alternatives outside of Philly and Los Angeles — but it isn’t the craziest idea if they make the right improvements this year. Speaking of which…

Taking Joel Embiid’s massive cap hold into account, the Sixers could fit LeBron while keeping their entire core intact. They couldn’t get a second star at the max without some major maneuvering, though. Like, we’re talking the Artists Formerly Known as the FEDS, no first-round pick next year, and maybe one other younger player (Richaun?).

I don’t see a realistic second star that would join LeBron here in the 2018 free agent class, though. George is the only great fit, but he’s been linked with the Lakers longer than LeBron. Avery Bradley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are maybe two players that the Sixers could theoretically sign along with LeBron without sacrificing quite as much. Robert Covington and his extension is obviously a major variable, though.

Assuming all of the young guys took a step forward, my guess is that the Sixers would be Eastern Conference favorites in 2018-19 with LeBron. That’s pretty good, but this league looks like it belongs to Golden State for at least the next few years.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann

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