The Philadelphia 76ers failed to meet the lofty free agency expectations set for them externally this summer, adding Wilson Chandler when names like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were being floated as possibilities to be absorbed into the max cap space they could have created.
George re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder at the stroke of midnight on July 1, and James announced his decision to join the Los Angeles Lakers hours later, indicating that Philadelphia never had a chance to sign either star, despite reports that LeBron’s representatives met with the Sixers.
Leonard was a different story. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year was available to the highest bidder once he announced his intention to leave the Spurs. Those bids may not have been quite as high as the Spurs would have liked, given that Leonard’s reps made it clear their client prefers to sign in Los Angeles when he becomes a free agent in 2019. Ultimately, San Antonio dealt Leonard to the Toronto Raptors for All-Star DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round draft pick.
The 76ers couldn’t have topped that offer? Really? Well, maybe they didn’t want to. This, from ESPN’s Zach Lowe, lends credence to the idea that the Spurs were more interested in retooling around their current playoff roster than rebuilding around a stud prospect like, say, Sixers guard Markelle Fultz. NBC Sports has the transcription of the remarks around the 28-minute mark of the Lowe Post podcast:
“There is no evidence that the Spurs wanted Fultz. I’ve been told the Spurs never asked for Fultz, and actively didn’t want Fultz, and in fact wanted one of the two big guys.”
If you were Spurs general manager R.C. Buford or coach Gregg Popovich, you too would want one of Philadelphia’s “two big guys” — All-Star center Joel Embiid or Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons. This is a ludicrous ask. Leonard’s mysterious quadriceps injury and unrestricted free agency make him an unknown commodity, while Embiid and Simmons are already top-25-ish players with plenty of room to grow and MVP potential under Philly’s financial control for the foreseeable future. No way, no how.
The Spurs also reportedly asked for the world from the Lakers — and probably every other team that inquired about Leonard’s services — and DeRozan is no small return. He’s also no Embiid or Simmons.
The more interesting aspect of this report is that the Spurs had no interest in Fultz, the recent No. 1 overall pick who missed almost all of last season with his own mysterious injury. Lowe’s revelation came during a discussion with Sixers guard J.J. Redick about Fultz’s reported shoulder issues and the ensuing poorly reconstructed shot that became a regular focus of media video footage from practice.
“Every practice you’d see this mad rush to get prime footage location,” Redick told Lowe. “They’d record him doing mundane things. At that point we’d seen months of him shooting. That day Bryan Colangelo had a press conference and after that they all come in with body language like they were vultures preying over a dying, decaying body. The kid was 19, he’s clearly going through something.”
Apparently, the media weren’t the only ones watching Fultz fail to meet early expectations. It was only a year ago that he was the consensus No. 1 pick in a deep draft — a can’t-miss modern-day point guard with franchise player potential. That the Spurs would not even consider trading Leonard for a package centered around the now 20-year-old guard will make for a fascinating what-if going forward.
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