Tuesday, July 23, 2024

76ers are reportedly out on Paul George and Zach LaVine, so who exactly is their primary offseason target?

The NBA Draft hasn’t even arrived yet and a handful of top Philadelphia 76ers are already seemingly off of the table. On Thursday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that their interest in Paul George had waned in recent days. Kyle Neubeck of PHLY Sports reported that the 76ers aren’t interested in pursuing Zach LaVine either. 

Though he isn’t a star, the 76ers took a blow when the Bulls traded Alex Caruso to the Thunder. Caruso had frequently been mentioned as a Philadelphia trade target because of his low salary. In theory, an optimal offseason for them would have involved sending picks to Chicago for Caruso and then still fitting a max-salary free agent into their cap sheet. That option is off the table with Caruso gone. There simply aren’t other role players that are valuable in earning a low enough salary to make that plan possible. Even if there were, George is considered by many to be the best free agent that is truly available. If he’s out, mapping out Philadelphia’s offseason becomes a lot harder.

Of course, their general manager is Daryl Morey. That means mapping out their offseason is always going to be difficult. He has a bit of a history of pulling superstars out of thin air. It’s entirely possible that the 76ers think they have a path to a player we might not otherwise consider available to them, as he did when he landed Chris Paul in 2017. Nothing is off of the table for the 76ers.

And then, of course, there is the timing of this reporting. It would make no sense for the 76ers to leak. Even if it is true, Philadelphia should want the world to believe it is ready to offer George the max (and that he is ready to take it) because that is the leverage they can exert in negotiations elsewhere. The likeliest reason that this gets out probably has less to do with George than the rest of the field. If the 76ers have cooled on George, it’s probably because they think they have a path to someone else. The question here is who?

Two names come to mind here, at least at first glance. Dan Woike of the LA Times reported Thursday that LeBron James is expected to opt out of his contract and become a free agent. Now, he is also expected to re-sign with the Lakers, but he and his camp have been fairly noncommittal about that throughout this offseason. That has been especially true of agent Rich Paul.

Paul said that “LeBron is a free agent” during an alt-cast of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. He claimed that the Lakers should be focusing on Anthony Davis, not James, in their hiring of a coach this offseason in an interview with Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes. He told ESPN’s Jonathan Givony that James could leave the Lakers even if they do draft his son, Bronny.

This doesn’t mean he’s leaving the Lakers. Staying is still the likeliest outcome. But it doesn’t exactly seem as though he’s off of the table entirely for enterprising contenders. If nothing else, getting to an Eastern Conference team with two All-Stars probably gives him a better chance of winning now than remaining in the West on a team with one. Morey has pursued James in the past. Perhaps there’s a pathway for him now.

On Friday, The Ringer’s Howard Beck predicted that Jimmy Butler would be the biggest name to move this offseason and even stated outright that he would be traded. He’s been a common element of the rumor mill so far this offseason. He will be 35 on opening night and wants a contract extension that the Heat reportedly aren’t willing to give him at the moment. If Miami could cash out on him now and get assets back, they could then redirect those assets elsewhere to find a younger star to pair with Bam Adebayo long-term.

Butler has already done one tour through Philadelphia. The people most responsible for his exit (Brett Brown and Ben Simmons) are now gone. He has remained close with Joel Embiid, and the fit between the two is as obvious today as it was when they split in 2019. Morey pursued Butler before he was ultimately dealt to Philadelphia in 2018. 

These are the names that immediately come to mind. Morey’s history suggests that we should probably broaden our horizons. It’s hard to imagine a 76ers team with over $60 million in cap space, Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey coming up empty. If they’re out on George, it’s because they think they’re close somewhere else. We don’t know who yet, but with the draft nearing and free agency coming soon after, it’s only a matter of time before their plan reveals itself.

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