Sixers offseason targets: Is Paul George worth it?

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (13) shoots a 3-point basket during the first half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, April 28, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

The offseason came far too quickly for the Sixers and their fans. While everyone would prefer the team were gearing up for a Mother’s Day matchup in Game 4 against the Pacers, Philadelphia’s only preparations relate to the draft, free agency, and the trade market.

One of the many names already mentioned as a potential target for the Sixers is Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George. The nine-time All-Star is set to hit free agency this summer, and though he has many reasons to return to his hometown team, that being the Clippers or even the team that drafted him, the Indiana Pacers, the Sixers are expected to be a strong contender for his services.

The set up

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Daryl Morey speaks during a news conference before an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

With plenty of cap space and draft picks in tow, the Sixers consider themselves among the top players in an offseason that holds the potential to see plenty of change across the NBA. With names like LeBron James, Pascal Siakam, James Harden, and DeMar DeRozan set to hit free agency and others like Brandon Ingram and Trae Young rumored to hit the trade market this summer, the entire league could look drastically different by the start of next season.

Working in the Sixers’ favor is the team’s immense amount of cap space, nearly $60 million, which they could increase to almost $65 million by waiving Paul Reed’s now non-guaranteed contract. Philadelphia is also able to trade up to five first-round picks after the draft, those being one of their two firsts in 2026, one of their two in 2028, their 2029 first, their 2031 first, and the draft rights to the player they select with the 16th pick in this year’s draft.

George, like most players, is looking to make the most of what will be his last long-term deal. Eligible for a four-year deal worth up to $212.7 million over that time, he won’t be able to simply choose from any of the 30 NBA teams.

Would Paul George want to play in Philadelphia?

Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George, center, goes up for a shot against Philadelphia 76ers’ Tobias Harris, right, and Tyrese Maxey during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia is not Los Angeles. Yea, they both suck to drive through, but Philly is colder, less shiny, and somehow both friendly and more intimidating at the same time. NBA players don’t consider the many beautiful experiences the city has to offer, such as grabbing a steak at Joe’s before a late-night trip to Barcade or hitting up Cuba Libre before sleeping it off as one should, in a delightful hammock at Spruce Street Harbor Park.

There are reasons Philadelphia hasn’t pulled the same type of free agents as LA or Miami, but for all the allure of the City of Angels, the Sixers beat out the Clippers in two major areas: money and the ability to contend. While admittedly, the field is close as the Clippers can technically offer more than Philadelphia by $8.9 million, and both teams are fresh off of first-round exits, there is a slight edge in Philadelphia’s favor.

The Clippers could offer George a bit more over the entirety of the deal, but the tax implications fall heavily in Philadelphia’s favor. He could also save nearly $19 million in taxes over the length of the deal through Pennsylvania rather than California.

Then, as far as contending, both teams dealt with injuries, and both saw first-round exits. The primary difference is that Philadelphia’s stars are more entrenched in their primes, or perhaps have not even reached it when speaking of Maxey, while Kawhi Leonard and James Harden of the Clippers are both on the continued downtrend. LA also had George and lost, while the Sixers were one more consistent scoring threat from potentially turning the tides of their series.

It’s easy to see how George could decide to comfortably remain in California with his Clippers, but the path to Philadelphia is far from hidden. There is plenty of opportunity for fame, riches, and possibly even glory for Paul George in Philly. What more could a player want?

Would Paul George fit what the Sixers need?

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Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse, right, talks to Tyrese Maxey, center, and Joel Embiid, left, during the second half of Game 2 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

While it’s important to consider if Paul George would even want to come to Philadelphia, it’s also important to consider if the team would have any true interest in him. Judging by the comments Daryl Morey made at his season-ending press conference, George fits the mold of what they’re looking for.

“I would say the biggest need is not at their position.” Morey said, “Someone at the wing who can play and deliver at a high level in the playoffs.”

Well, that’s succinctly put enough. Some may argue about George’s ability to fill that second need Morey mentioned, but we’ll touch on that shortly. What can be definitely said is that Paul George is a wing, yes, but a high-level one at that.

Scoring 22.6 points per game last season, Geroge ranked 22 in the league last season. In his fifth year as the 1B to Kawhi Leonard’s 1A, his first with James Harden as their 1C, George saw his shot total fall, but his efficiency climbed across the board, in large part due to his three-point percentage leaping back up to over 41 percent.

That’s just a quick surface level of what Paul George brings to the regular season at age 34. The much bigger question is what he can bring come the postseason.

Is he Pandemic P or Playoff P?

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George gestures to the crowd after shooting a 3-point basket during the first half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Sunday, April 28, 2024, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

There is no denying the disappearing act seen at times this past postseason by Paul George. Then there’s the infamous bubble appearance that gave him the name ‘Pandemic P,’ an echo of sorts to his self-proclaimed ‘Playoff P’ moniker from the previous season. It is worth pointing out, however, that the very next season, George helped bring the Clippers to the Conference Finals, something the Sixers have been unable to do since 2001.

One very real knock on George is that he missed two postseasons, in 2022 and 2023, due to injuries. This, paired with his age, is the biggest red flag when it comes to the decision to sign Paul George. Unfortunately, there are no young comparable options throwing themselves at the Sixers in free agency.

Over his past five playoff stints, Paul George has averaged over 24 points per game, 7.8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists while shooting over 34 percent from deep on 8.4 attempts per game. That three-point percentage put into the perspective of this postseason would place him above Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell, Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Jalen Brunson. His scoring would rank 16th in the league, just after Khris Middleton.

Paul George is not Micael Jordan. Few players are. People will complain until their thumbs are bleeding about a player’s postseason worth, but the reality is that a team could do far worse than Paul George in the playoffs, and the Sixers have on many occasions.

Is Paul George worth it for Philadelphia?

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George, left, shoots as Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber defends during the first half in Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

He’s not without his warts, but this isn’t a move worth overthinking. Paul George is still a top 25-20 scoring threat whose off-ball play style perfectly compliments what the Sixers need and boasts more playoff success than nearly an. His age and defensive decline are legitimate reasons for concern, but there is no perfect solution in this situation.

Perhaps the best argument for signing George is the long-term flexibility. While the 34-year-old wing will be paid 35 percent of the Sixers’ salary cap, the Sixers would not have to attach any draft picks to acquire him. Additionally, George remains a highly sought-after player in this league. Barring injury and a total unforeseen regression, he will be far from untradable throughout this deal, hence the longterm flexibility.

If the Sixers are hellbent on star hunting this offseason and knowing Daryl Morey, they are, Paul George would give Philadelphia a strong combination of both ability and optionality in the short and long term future. I am not here to tell you Paul George is the best option available for Philadelphia, but there are certainly worse, and we will cover them soon, so stay tuned.