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June 21, 2024

The Sixers' pursuit of Paul George is over. What comes next?

Paul George was long rumored to be the Sixers' top free agency target. Now, the team appears to no longer be interested in signing the nine-time All-Star.

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Paul George 6.20.24 Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers appear to no longer have interest in the player who was once believed to be their primary free agency target.

The first wave of significant NBA offseason news regarding player movement struck Thursday evening, and the first development to be reported was a bit of a stunner: according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Sixers are no longer interested in likely-to-be free agent Paul George. The team had been connected to the nine-time All-Star wing for several weeks as he has continued to struggle to find common ground on a potential contract with the Los Angeles Clippers.

What exactly happened here is unclear; it seems far-fetched that the Sixers would consider George their top target for weeks — if not months — and suddenly, a week and change before free agency opens, decide they are no longer interested in his services. The far more likely scenario is that the team learned through back-channeling messages that George was no longer considering coming to Philadelphia, so they chose to get out ahead of it rather than be publicly spurned by yet another star player.

The Sixers could attempt to use the vast majority of their cap space to sign a player like OG Anunoby and hope he improves his durability and is able to dial up his scoring volume. There are many reasons to be skeptical of those things happening, though, making a massive four-year contract for Anunoby an ominous concept. DeMar DeRozan is a terrific player, but it is hard to see him appealing to Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey given his minuscule three-point volume. LeBron James does not appear to be leaving the Los Angeles Lakers. 

MORE SIXERS: Sixers mailbag: Would paying OG Anunoby be too risky?

So, despite spending the better part of 12 months putting themselves in position to pounce on a star-caliber player in free agency this summer – they could realistically create well over $50 million in cap space in 10 days – it now appears that the Sixers' most realistic path to adding a third star to play alongside Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey is to add one via trade.

Several names loom as potential targets — some are known to be available, some might be closer to pipe dreams. Brandon Ingram is likely the name with the most public steam right now; the Pelicans appear determined to move Ingram and reportedly contacted the Sixers to discuss a hypothetical deal for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Ingram is a certified elite perimeter scorer and 2024-25 will only be his age-27 year: that combination in itself makes him extremely enticing. However, his offensive fit with Embiid and Maxey seems a bit wonky — he and Embiid like to reside in the same spaces on the floor, and he and Maxey like to operate at very different speeds—- and he is entering the final year of his contract, meaning the Sixers would need to have extreme confidence that he is both worth retaining long-term and willing to ink a new deal.

Until the Miami Heat sign Jimmy Butler to the contract extension he apparently desires — so far, there is no indication the team is willing to go to those lengths — rumors about him being traded will persist. Given the Sixers' desire for a star, their hole on the wing, Morey's long-time affinity for Butler and the former Sixers' well-documented friendship with Embiid, it is not hard to connect the dots: if Butler is moved, a return to Philadelphia certainly seems possible. But we are a long ways away from something that like taking place.

The Atlanta Hawks have the No. 1 pick in next week's NBA Draft and appear to be prepared to at least undergo a retooling, if not a full rebuild. That could make guard DeJounte Murray available; but if the Sixers make a deal with the Hawks they should aim higher and determine if Trae Young is the right match. Young's defensive fit with Maxey is questionable at best, and the Hawks may elect to hold onto him, but it is certainly a scenario worth investigating.

On Thursday evening the Chicago Bulls traded Alex Caruso to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Josh Giddey, signaling a youth movement on the way. Zach LaVine could likely be had for little draft and player compensation given his massive contract; however that deal should be considered enough of an albatross that it is worth avoiding at all costs.

Donovan Mitchell of the Cleveland Cavaliers would be the absolute perfect target for the Sixers if made available — even if the price was steep — but the latest rumors indicate that the star guard is set to ink an extension to remain in Cleveland for the long haul.

A player the Cavaliers traded to the Utah Jazz to help acquire Mitchell, Lauri Markkanen, has blossomed into a tremendous offensive force over the last two seasons. He would be a beautiful schematic fit with Embiid and Maxey on that end of the floor and would be worth trading for and signing to a massive long-term contract in the immediate aftermath, but it remains to be seen if the Jazz will even entertain offers for their All-Star forward.

Morey is known for his creativity, and there seems to be at least one star player traded in stunning fashion each summer these days, so perhaps there are other trade options who the Sixers could pursue in the coming days and weeks.

One thing is for sure: the Sixers have placed all of their eggs in the third star basket, and right now the identity of said third star is very much up in the air.

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