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March 22, 2017

When is the right time for the Sixers to go all-in?

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After Zach Lowe mentioned that the Sixers were involved with the Indiana Pacers in trade discussions for 26-year-old swingman Paul George at the deadline, Liberty Ballers’ Kyle Neubeck (who also does a little podcast called Sixers Beat) did a great job advancing that story, nailing down what the Sixers offered.

Here are the money paragraphs in that story from Liberty Ballers:

Multiple sources told Liberty Ballers the Sixers offered Indiana their choice of one of the Sixers’ young bigs, Robert Covington, and at least two first round picks for his services.

According to multiple sources, the Sixers’ preference was to keep their own future picks and move the draft rights of other teams — like those of the Lakers and Kings — in an effort to protect themselves against George leaving. However, the Sixers were not turned off by George’s reported preference to play for the Lakers, according to one member of the organization.

Mulling all of this over, the idea of trading for a superstar like Paul George got me to continue thinking about a larger philosophical question for the Sixers: When is the right time to go all-in, push in your figurative chips, and make a move?

For example, let’s take George and the offer that Neubeck reported the Sixers made for him. I wasn’t crazy about the Noel trade, but including him or Okafor in a George deal is understandable from the Sixers’ standpoint. I am a huge admirer of Covington’s always-improving defense and believe he could be a long-term piece here in Philly, but George is essentially a better version of him.

The picks, especially if the Sixers were willing to offer both the Lakers and Kings first rounders (the report didn’t say which ones, but the only other non-Sixers first rounder is the heavily protected 2020 OKC pick obtained in the Jerami Grant/Ersan Ilyasova trade) could be the sticking point and where this philosophical discussion comes into play.

Basically, I’m not sure if trading for Paul George in that situation is a no-brainer. Consider some of the potential drawbacks:

•    It has heavily been rumored that the Los Angeles native wouldn’t mind going home and playing for the Lakers. With that in mind, picking him up for 1.33 seasons (the first of which was certainly not going to result in a playoff berth), is a major risk for an organization that spent three years building up a massive arsenal of assets. Trading those valuable assets away and seeing someone like George bolt in free agency would hurt.

Maybe George would indicate a willingness to pick up his 2018-19 player option (doubtful) or he’d find happiness in the Philly market playing with the Embiid-Simmons-Saric core, but unless the Sixers got some sort of guarantee, that is a risk.

•    It’s a smaller consideration, but George would likely have worsened the Sixers’ chances at a top pick this year. Then again, with the way that Brett Brown is coaching, that could happen organically.

•    Here’s the big one: Do George and the Sixers’ timelines for contention truly match up? Are the Sixers ready to win right now? The Pacers swingman is going to turn 27 in May, so he has already hit the prime of his career. With two core pieces who have played zero and 31 games of NBA basketball respectively, are the Sixers both good and experienced enough to get George back to playing the types of games he wants to, in May and June?

•    From the Sixers’ standpoint, that 2019 Kings pick could be gold. At a time when Embiid might be on a second contract, Simmons and Saric are approaching theirs, Covington has possibly been extended, and whatever 2017 lottery picks are close to getting paid, the idea of supplementing that core with an elite talent on a rookie scale contract could be a huge advantage. Or, you know, maybe they would able to trade for 2019 Jimmy Butler, whoever that is.

Then again, there are plenty of reasons why trading for George makes sense, the most obvious of which is that it’s Paul Freaking George and those picks carry much more uncertainty. Making such a move would be understandable.

I don’t pretend to have the right answers, but I am fascinated to see when and how Bryan Colangelo and the front office decide to consolidate all of the assets and young players that they are sitting on.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann