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June 25, 2018

Report: LeBron James not interested in elaborate free agency pitches

When most people hear the words "LeBron James" and "free agency" said alongside one another, the mind tends to drift to the headline-grabbing summers we've seen in his past. After all, this is the man who once announced his plans during a nationally-televised special on ESPN, and later revealed his return home through a front-page article in Sports Illustrated.

But on the Sixers' side of things, it's the act of luring him to Philadelphia in the first place at the forefront of their mind. And if a recent report from ESPN's Ramona Shelburne is to be believed, the Sixers might actually have received a boost in their pursuit of a star free agent.

First up — the nitty-gritty details. Elaborate pitches to LeBron's camp have become a staple of NBA free agency over the past decade or so, but Shelburne's primary claim is that he's no longer interested in such a process. In fact, her report goes so far to suggest that meetings might not even be necessary to get a deal done.

While James hasn't decided yet whether to pick up his player option, sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.

James might meet or speak with a club official or owner at some point, but the elaborate presentations that have become common in NBA free agency over the years are unnecessary after 15 seasons in the league.

Should James become a free agent, league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.

This is a pretty stark departure from his first run through of unrestricted free agency in 2010, and leans closer to the more guarded process LeBron participated in when he returned to the Cavaliers in 2014. Depending on how LeBron feels about Philadelphia's situation — which we don't know a whole lot about right now — there's an argument to be made this actually trends in their favor.

Think about it — if the concern here is glitz and glam or even an elaborate presentation about what's at stake for LeBron and the team, Philadelphia would likely lag behind the competition. Cleveland offers the draw of home and the ability to continue building on his legacy as a local icon, regardless of the basketball concerns. Los Angeles as a location is far superior, and the Lakers boast a much stronger history of success and fame than the Sixers can. If the Lakers wanted to, they could trot out a nearly endless stream of Hall of Famers and celebrities to impress James with.

Philadelphia's pitch, comparatively, is much simpler: we believe we offer you the best chance to compete now and in the twilight of your career. We have two young stars who have already proven capable of leading a team to 50+ wins in their first season together, and with your help they can take the next step and compete for serious hardware. And oh by the way, we have a player's coach who gets along well with his star pupils and is connected to a man LeBron respects above most others, Gregg Popovich.

All of these things are self-evident, and that last note is of particular importance. With Brown temporarily running things heading into free agency, there's no elaborate chain of command to penetrate or competing ideas to work through. It's as simple as the head coach/interim GM desires it to be, and nothing about Brown's style suggests he would make this any more complicated than it needs to be.

Outside of that, the Sixers' connections to LeBron have likely already laid the foundation for a potential move to Philly. Ben Simmons' relationship with the veteran superstar has been discussed to death, but his and the team's desire to bring in James can't have gone unsaid up until this point. Hell, it's not as though Joel Embiid has been bashful about his desire to play with James either, as he has openly campaigned for LeBron to join the team since the summer he was drafted.

This is all speculative, but this report also seems to put an additional bit of importance on a potential acquisition of Kawhi Leonard. Going out an getting one of the league's best players — albeit, with some clear baggage that needs sorting through right now — would send a very direct message about the "NBA landscape" to James. The Sixers would effectively be saying, "We are ready to compete right now, and we're willing to make the corresponding moves to make that a reality." Believing you can compete is one thing, putting your money where your mouth is and pushing in chips to make it happen is another.

There are more factors than ever for LeBron to consider heading into free agency. It's well known at this point that he is taking stock of what's best for his family in ways he may not have in the past, with his children coming of age and trying to get their legs under them.

But Philadelphia's best chance at luring LeBron to Philly has always hinged on a simple message: offering the most straightforward path towards success and contention on the basketball court. There's no need for elaborate package deals, cap space manuevering, or league-shifting moves to get this done. With very minor corresponding moves, the Sixers can boast a big three that will put them in a class with the league's elite.

And if that's not enough, then LeBron to Philly was never in the cards to begin with, no matter how many billboards and flying banners Sixers fans put up to drive the point home. 

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