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May 27, 2024

NBA free agency: Is Paul George the Sixers' missing piece?

The most commonly rumored target for the Sixers in this summer's free agency is Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers. Would his fit in Philadelphia be foolproof?

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George Maxey 5.27.24 Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

Could 2023-24 NBA All-Stars Tyrese Maxey and Paul George be the perfect sidekicks for former NBA MVP Joel Embiid for years to come?

Since the beginning of the 2023-24 Sixers season, reporting, on-the-record quotes and contextual clues have all told the same story: President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey has his sights set on adding another star-caliber player to the team's All-Star duo of Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey this summer. With the constant player movement that has helped define this era of NBA basketball, it may be impossible to guess who that third key cog will be for the Sixers.

Let's evaluate the likelihood as well as the pros and cons of the Sixers adding Paul George this summer.

George, who turned 34 years old earlier this month, is expected to decline his player option with the Los Angeles Clippers for the 2024-25 season and become an unrestricted free agent. While there appears to be considerable interest from both George and the Clippers in a long-term reunion, the sides appear to be far apart in contract negotiations that have been going on since the beginning of this season. George's co-star, Kawhi Leonard -- who was also set to have the opportunity to become a free agent at the end of the 2023-24 season -- inked a three-year extension with the Clippers in January. George was expected to follow suit, but never agreed to terms with the team.

MORE: Paul George is 'Plan A' for Sixers this summer

George has become known as one of the great two-way wings of his era, a career 20.8-point per game scorer with four All-Defensive Team honors to his name.

George has become one of the sport's most consistent and highest-volume three-point shooters. Over the last nine NBA seasons, George has made 39.2 percent of his shots from beyond the arc while taking nearly 4,500 total three-point attempts. With the ability to shoot off the catch and off the dribble at 6-foot-8 with a high release point, he is one of the best in NBA history at getting three-point shots up at a high rate. But George has also used his very impressive frame to earn a reputation as one of the league's best wing defenders, particularly among high-usage offensive players.

For all of these reasons, Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer reported Monday morning that signing George is considered to be the Sixers' primary objective this summer.

This makes sense: George's on-court fit with Embiid and Maxey is pristine, the Sixers are aiming to win a championship next season and he may be the single best player attainable for the team this offseason.

In theory, George is the absolute perfect third star to play in between Maxey and Embiid: he should be able to play alongside either or both of them and take over the team's offense in spurts when necessary while also bolstering the team's wing defense. The key words: in theory.

As clean as the fit seems on paper for George in Philadelphia, there are some significant reasons to be worried about whether signing him to a massive, long-term contract is a viable long-term solution to the Sixers' current issues, as it might create new problems down the line.

Let's start with the drawbacks of George as a player: in the last four NBA seasons, he has played an average of 53.7 games per regular season. Once an iron man of sorts, he has developed a lengthy injury history in recent seasons that has damaged his durability. Meanwhile, George's production as a defender lags far behind his reputation at this point -- he does not expend nearly as much energy as he used to on that end of the floor (which is to be expected as he grapples with the aging process and a long list of injuries, but is still a cause for concern).

There is no doubt that George is still a tremendous offensive talent: he has averaged 24.1 points per game over the last six regular seasons with an impressive 58.8 true shooting percentage, is a true three-level scoring threat, and has even improved his passing -- once considered a bit of a hole in his game.

But, for what it is worth, George has developed a reputation as a player who shies away from the moment when the playoffs come around. Not dissimilar to Embiid, he has still been a good player in those moments, but has clearly not reached his full potential. His efficiency takes a dip in the postseason most years (not too uncommon, in a general sense), and he has been part of several ugly, disappointing playoff exits.

On the day the Clippers were eliminated from the first round of the NBA Playoffs earlier this month at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks -- a game in which George shot 6-18 from the field -- Robert Flom, who covers the team for 213Hoops, summed up concerns about George's playoff production as they relate to the Sixers succinctly:

"Sixers fans who want their max players to be aggressive in key moments are in for a world of disappointment if PG does end up there."

Speaking of a maximum contract, the price of adding George is another significant factor here that could lead the Sixers to be nervous. In order to pry George away from his home state of California and the Clippers, the Sixers will likely have to offer him the most they possibly can -- and not a single penny below it.

While the Clippers have the advantage of being able to offer George a five-year deal, it seems nearly impossible that they would go to those lengths given George's age and injury history. Leonard's three-year deal may have been an attempt at setting a precedent for George's future deal with the team -- if one is to actually come to fruition.

If the Clippers stick to that timeline, the Sixers have a chance to usurp them by offering George the longest deal they are allowed to, a four-year pact. Because George has more than 10 years of NBA service, his maximum contract starts at 35 percent of the salary cap. If he signs with the Sixers, he can receive raises of up to five percent each season. Here is what George's maximum contract would look like if he came to Philadelphia:

Season (George age)Salary
2024-25 (34)$49,350,000
2025-26 (35)$51,817,500
2026-27 (36)$54,285,000
2027-28 (37)$56,752,500

That comes out to four years and $212,205,000 -- a staggering number, even for a player with George's track record.

To create the requisite salary cap space to sign this deal, the Sixers would need to gut their roster by renouncing the vast majority of their free agents. Letting go of Tobias Harris will not hurt; watching Buddy Hield walk would not be a crushing blow either. But signing George might make it impossible for the team to bring back someone like De'Anthony Melton, who could potentially be signed to another deal below his market value after dealing with two years of back injuries.

Of course, in a vacuum, swapping Melton for George while letting two high-priced disappointments in Harris and Hield sign elsewhere is a promising proposition. But if the Sixers renounce nearly all of their free agents to sign George, they will have very limited resources to fill out the rest of their roster.

The best the Sixers could do in terms of keeping their own free agents in-house after a theoretical deal George addition would be keeping their rights to Maxey -- who is primed to sign a five-year contract of his own worth $204,450,000 this summer -- as well as two of their players who were on veteran's minimums this season (likely Kelly Oubre Jr. and either Cam Payne or KJ Martin). That would mean they lose their ability to go over the cap to sign whichever of Payne and Martin they do not retain, as well as Melton, Nic Batum, Kyle Lowry and others -- all of these players would only be able to sign with the Sixers for their minuscule remaining cap space, a salary cap exception or a veteran's minimum deal.

Spending nearly $50 million on a player next season will be well worth it for the Sixers if that player genuinely elevates them into championship status. But the idea of paying George over $56.7 million in 2027-28, when he will be 38 years old by the time the playoffs end, is daunting.

On paper, George could not be a better fit alongside Embiid and Maxey to form a dominant trio in Philadelphia which could compete with anybody in the Eastern Conference and the NBA. But, like most matters with the Sixers, it is just never quite that simple. While the upside of inking George to the four-year deal he would likely command from the team is palpable, so are the massive risks that come with such a move.

MORE: Sixers offseason FAQ

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