The NBA offseason is always fun but this year has been remarkable. Within the space of a week, the Lakers fanbase has seen dreams come true and then shattered right before their very eyes. How the Warriors continue to develop into the human cheat code is a discussion for another day, but there’s one player that still has all the leverage in the world and could turn the offseason on its head for a third time. That man is Kawhi Leonard.
By this point, we all know the narrative. Finals MVP and 2x All Star, Kawhi Leonard hasn’t exactly been singing the praises of the San Antonio Spurs in recent months. After an long-lasting flame began to burn out, the elite defensive talent suddenly found himself in a position power.
Injuries have plagued Leonard in recent years, missing three of the team’s five playoff games two season’s ago before playing in just nine games last season due to the quad injury that has haunted him as of late. As the trust and relationship between Leonard and the Spurs began to rust and his contract slowly started to do the same, he saw an opportunity.
Rumor after rumor, intention after intention, Leonard started to voice an interested in joining the Lakers…and so the frenzy to acquire his talents started. Teams were throwing everything they could to poach the all-star from a very reluctant trade partner, who insist on keeping him hostage through next season, or so it seems.
That leads us to the current day. A day in which Paul George remains with the Thunder and LeBron James has seemingly joined the Cavs of the West. Many Sixers fans deemed this offseason ‘LeBron or bust’, with sprinkles of Kawhi being filtered in to the dream scenarios as the offseason unfolded.
At this stage, the demands by the Spurs are simply too much. Rumors of such demands include ‘two players and two future first round picks’ along with a lifetime of free WaWa’s, Brett Brown’s second car and a pair of sneakers signed by Ben Simmons…okay so the last bit isn’t entirely true but you get what I mean.
It’s not as if the Sixers could sign Leonard and immediately secure his services for years to come, which after all is exactly what ‘the process’ was designed to achieve. Instead, Leonard would be in Philadelphia for one season and that’s the risk that the Sixers would have to swallow. It’s essentially hitting when you have 16 and the dealer has 8. It’s a big risk. The only way the Sixers could really ensure he doesn’t sneak off to the Lakers or elsewhere one season from now would be to win a Championship ring. The naturally progression of this extremely young team should not be ‘championship or bust’, mortgaging the future and some of that core just to have a CHANCE at adding one more piece.
The team have Embiid. The team have Simmons. The team also have a massive wildcard in Markelle Fultz, who is stunningly a part of these apparent negotiations despite being just 20-years old and spending an offseason working with a star trainer to fix his shot. Not only that, but does it not seem a little ‘Trojan horse’ like from a Spurs perspective?
The Sixers are just weeks removed from the ridiculous burner scandal and it’s Head Coach Brett Brown who now has to wade through NBA Draft and Free Agency waters. Milking that lack of front office experience almost sounds like a given, but not one that anyone is accepting as a drastic possibility.
Why should Philadelphia risk that future draft capital and rip someone such as Dario, who has gelled so well with Simmons and Embiid over the last year or so. The Croatian hasn’t just found his swagger on the court, but has flourished under the leadership of Ben Simmons.
“He’s always the first guy on the court.” The Croatian explained to me just before he took to the court to practice in London. “Sometimes he’s hard, but a positive hard. Before you’re there, he’s already in the office. I got a couple open shots for me more during the game and his court vision is really nice, one of the top in the league. He’s a big big motor of our machine.”
Time has evaded the Sixers. If Kawhi was ‘open to moving’ or letting little nuggets of hints slip to the media that he even remotely thought about Philadelphia as a long-term destination, then absolutely pursue until your hearts content, Mr Brown. But the truth is, he hasn’t. He’s a player that has been contrasted to LaMarcus Aldridge by his own Head Coach with regards to playing through injury or has some interpreted, ‘buying in’ to the culture, why would the team take a risk on a player who doesn’t want to stay past that first pressure piled season?
This team is so, so young and they still have so much potential and assets at their feet. Throwing them all away just because the offseason motive was to ‘acquire a star’ seems ridiculous. Sixers fans have waited years and years for the process to be completed, one more won’t hurt. The Eastern Conference is wide open for the taking and let’s not forget how this team fared against the Celtics (albeit without Hayward and Irving) during the playoffs. The team are poised to make a serious run once again, why not just let the offseason pan out, continue to build the bench and sign those key players such as J.J Redick and let the final piece of the puzzle come to you.
Culture is key to the Sixers process, Brett Brown has made that much inherently clear. Disrupting that for a short-term gain just does not seem like the right move.