March 08, 2018
If we're being honest, trying to guess the free agency plans of LeBron James months in advance is a fool's errand. His return to Cleveland a few summers ago was viewed as a pipe dream not that long before it happened, and though it eventually turned into the biggest NBA story in the world, his feature essay with Lee Jenkins was kept tightly under wraps until the moment it dropped.
That disclaimer sets the backdrop for a remarkable piece of information that emerged this morning. Within a longer story about the future of the San Antonio Spurs, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported that Philadelphia is on a very short list of teams LeBron will consider as a free agent this summer.
There have been whispers, mostly on social media, about whether LeBron James would consider the Spurs because of the mutual respect between James and Popovich, now the coach of the U.S. men’s national basketball team. But I’ve consistently heard from multiple league sources that LeBron currently has only four teams on his list: the Cavaliers, Lakers, Rockets, and 76ers.
A few words within this paragraph are doing the heavy lifting, "currently" chief among them. This is a list of teams without any curveballs or wildcards, but things can change fairly quickly depending on how the next few months unfold. Trades, draft picks, and supplementary plans in free agency all have the power to draw LeBron's attention.
But realistically, these are the teams Bryan Colangelo will have to compete with this summer. Assuming they can clear cap space to make it happen, Houston offers LeBron the best chance to win immediately and a chance to play with one of his best friends in the league, Chris Paul. Cleveland is still his home, and though their future outlook is bleaker following the trade of Kyrie Irving, leaving might prove tougher for LeBron this time around. And there is always Los Angeles, the city where LeBron keeps a second home, and the Lakers, a franchise flush with cap space and ready to do what it takes to bring multiple stars into the fold.
Philadelphia has as compelling a case as any from a bird's eye view. A move to the Sixers would allow LeBron to stay in the familiar Eastern Conference, where he has dominated for his entire career. It would give him the best mix of current and future success, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons good enough to compete now and theoretically capable of becoming even greater with experience. For a guy obsessed with branding and the broader narrative, it would also allow him to be the final piece of a rebuilding process years in the making, an athlete with the potential to restore a once-proud franchise to its former glory.
The benefits for the Sixers are obvious, too. While there are concerns about the on-court fit with Simmons specifically, bringing LeBron to Philadelphia would allow the young protege to work with the player he should be modeling his game after every single day. The gains from such an arrangement would be unimaginable, and putting Simmons and LeBron on a fast break together would be almost inarguably the most exciting combination Philadelphia has had in decades, possibly ever. If you think the Sixers' ultra-big lineups are scary now, just imagine one of the greatest athletes of the last century being added to the mix.
Debating the case for and against LeBron is best saved for another day, but a potential Sixers-LeBron marriage feels more real by the day. If you're a fan of the franchise, take a second to appreciate that the greatest player of his generation is actively considering a move to the city.
Maybe that Super Bowl magic is rubbing off on the Sixers after all.