With LeBron James off to L.A., it's two strikes and counting in 76ers' pursuit of a star


The Philadelphia 76ers are one strike away from missing out on all three of their coveted A-list additions.

The Philadelphia 76ers will likely look to add San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard this offseason.

Late Saturday, night one of their targets — Paul George — agreed to a four-year, $137 million deal to return to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Strike one.

Then, the NBA’s No. 1 offseason target — LeBron James — agreed to a four-year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Strike Two.

Now, the Sixers’ only chance of getting one of their high-level targets is acquiring Kawhi Leonard in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs. They just have to decide if the price is too steep for a player with his heart set on signing a free-agent deal with his hometown Lakers next season.

The Sixers have been vocal and aggressive in their desire to bring a star player to Philadelphia this offseason. So things surely aren’t heading in the direction they wanted.

James and George can sign their deals on Friday when the NBA moratorium ends. Free agency began at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, but players cannot sign contracts and teams may not comment until 12:01 p.m. EDT on Friday.

However, the Sixers were hopeful in regards to James.

LeBron meeting: A team contingent, led by co-managing owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer, met with James’ representatives in Los Angeles on Sunday. The Sixers felt James was very interested in playing for the Sixers. The meeting was not obligatory on his representatives’ part.

There was talk of James wanting to play alongside the Sixers’ all-star center Joel Embiid and rookie of the year Ben Simmons. The belief was that he also liked Sixers coach and interim general manager Brett Brown. And the thought was that he believed the Sixers would help him get to his ninth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

The Sixers even tried to sell him on the fact that they believe they still had a shot at acquiring Leonard.

But James still committed to the Lakers, something people thought he would eventually do after opting out of his $35.6 million contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers for next season.

Attention turns to Leonard: Now, all of the “star hunting” attention is turned to Leonard.

The Spurs keep trying to raise the ante for the two-time defensive player of the year, saying that another team is offering more.

ESPN reported on Sunday that besides Embiid and Simmons, the Sixers were saying that Markelle Fultz is untouchable. As a result, the Sixers’ most realistic package to submit to San Antonio could involve Dario Saric, Robert Covington and the Miami Heat’s 2021 unprotected first-round pick. A source noted that it might take additional draft picks.

Yahoo Sports later reported that the Spurs want two players — again, believed to be Saric and Covington — and three future first-round picks. So the Sixers will have to decide if they want to part with two more first-round picks or see if the Spurs will back off those demands.

The Spurs are intrigued by Zhaire Smith, the Sixers rookie taken with the 16th pick. The Boston Celtics, who had some trade discussion with San Antonio, have three desirable first-round picks (the 2019 Los Angeles Clippers protected pick, the 2019 Memphis Grizzles protected pick, and the switch pick with the Sixers that involves the 2019 Sacramento Kings pick), but word out of Boston is the Celtics don’t want to give up a lot.

In regards to Leonard’s contract, the Sixers believe he’ll seriously consider picking up his player option or re-signing with them via free agency next summer.

So they’ll have a big decision to make.

Losing unrestricted free agents: In the meantime, the Sixers lost unrestricted free agents Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova at the deadline, as expected.  In pursuit of a max-level player, the team didn’t think they would have had the cap space to retain them, but in hindsight, they would have been great players to-resign.

Belinelli agreed to two-year, $12 million deal to return to the Spurs, where he played three seasons from 2013-16. The Italian player was a member of the Spurs’ 2014 championship team.

Ilyasova will sign a three-year, $21 million contract to return to the Milwaukee Bucks. The 31-year-old played his first seven seasons there and his wife and children still live in Milwaukee.

What’s next? The Sixers could look to re-sign JJ Redick and Amir Johnson for another season.