I've survived the gauntlet of free agency and the beaches of the Jersey Shore in order to make it back to the mailbag this week! I got a few questions regarding a specific basketball player from Akron, Ohio. And, no, they weren't about JaKarr Sampson.
To the mailbag...
I think we should have fun with the LeBron James talk while we can. Lakers and Celtics fans do this incessantly, as they tell the world how every major star wants to play in their city for their team. Why not get in on that fun when reading the tea leaves gives the Sixers a sliver of hope that the best basketball player in the world might play in Philadelphia?
While it may feel crazy to think that LeBron would ever sign with the Sixers, it's not so insane as to be dismissed entirely. That, in and of itself, is an indication that the Sixers' path towards contention has progressed over the last few seasons with a nucleus of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz now in place. Klutch Sports reps both LeBron and Simmons, a player who has been compared to a Young LeBron for the last half-decade. It's not impossible for this to happen.
LeBron tweeted the following while I was in the middle of writing this mailbag yesterday:
Happy Bday to my lil bro @BenSimmons25!!! That boi 21 now. Uh-Oh!! Let's go have a Shirley temple with a twist. ♂️ ♂️— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 20, 2017
I. Cannot. Breathe.
Let's get one thing straight when it comes to LeBron: the man is not dumb. He has purposely not dismissed the heavy rumors that he will leave Cleveland for the second time next summer, while also critiquing the Cavaliers' ownership and front office (or, lack thereof) in the process. He's subtweeted his way through his relationship with Kevin Love for three seasons. He has his own multimedia-sharing platform, Uninterrupted (on which, J.J. Redick relaunched his podcast this week). He knows that both the media and basketball fans hang on every word he says publicly. He knows exactly what he's doing. He may not want to come to the Sixers, but he also doesn't not want to come here.
I'm here for the next year of endless speculation regarding LeBron.
My head says 50 games, but my heart is a little unsure of it. If he played, let's just say, 31 games again, I still don't really foresee a situation in which I wouldn't match any offer for him in restricted free agency if I'm the Sixers. I would rather bank on the, say, 25 percent chance that Joel Embiid has a healthy career than the, say, 15 percent chance some other available player could be the best player on a championship-winning team.
Those percentages are obviously just approximations, but get to the root of the issue: Embiid is just that good when he's on the court that the Sixers have to keep him at all costs in the hopes that he puts together a few healthy seasons. I have no doubt that a healthy Joel Embiid over a whole season would be an MVP contender, but the gamble here is about health, not talent. So many other teams around the league are gambling on the talent of their rosters to be good enough to be in the championship mix, but the Sixers already have a guy who is there. The Sixers, unfortunately, have to gamble on health more than just about any other team.
They're supposed to zig while everyone else zags, right?
(in extreme Brett Brown voice)
Tim Frash-uh, Dev-un Book-ah, Luke Kenn-ahd, Drog-un Ben-dah, and Tee-ago Splitt-ah.
In a vacuum, I wouldn't do that trade, but to get LeBron? Everything's on the table. I'm taking LeBron and Kyrie Irving over, say, Robert Covington and Markelle Fultz every time. I'm not the world's biggest Irving fan. He's a ball-stopper at times, but he's still an incredible offensive player who hit one of the biggest shots in basketball history and won a championship as a team's second-best player. He could be the third banana in Philly behind LeBron and Embiid, or even fourth behind Simmons depending on how much the latter's developed at that point.
As for the contract situation, it's reasonable to think that LeBron could still be the best player in the league during the first year or two of his contract. Even if he falls to just one of the five best basketball players in the world by year four, a superstar on a max contract is always a bargain. There's also no shot he signs a four-year deal anywhere. I think he'll be playing the one-and-one game for the foreseeable future.
I actually hate soda and will never be caught drinking a soda again in my life unless it was mixed with some other type of liquid. I've cycled through a few different healthy/unhealthy eating periods in my life (currently in a healthy one!), but I quit drinking soda just by itself when I was 16 and lost about 20 pounds that summer just by replacing it with water and without any other diet or exercise changes. I digress...
In my youth, my favorite two sodas were actually both Pepsi Vanilla and Wild Cherry Pepsi. I obviously drank a ton of Coke and Cherry Coke too, but I always thought Pepsi had a smoother taste. This question doesn't have anything to do with anything, but I think it's a nice break from us all getting riled up about sports for once. So I will say, "Yes," to be Pepsi being okay.
While he may have preferred that, the rules of restricted free agency, which are ultimately pretty unfair to the players, should have mitigated the Sixers' concern over that. He would've been the backup big man to Embiid even on the one-year qualifying offer, a situation that could have him starting 25-30 games easily in a season. Embiid considered Noel his "best friend" on the team, something I previously wrote about as being important in terms of keeping Noel around.
People will say that it was better to trade him for something rather than nothing, but given that they sold the second-round pick they got in return for him for cash and the fact that I would cut Justin Anderson this summer amidst of glut of perimeter players, they essentially got nothing for him. The Sixers could've rolled into this offseason and, much like the Mavericks are happily doing, watched the cap space that once seemed endless dry up in a quick second.
Hindsight is a benefit here, for sure, but Bryan Colangelo didn't handle this situation well. I've loved Colangelo's drafts each of the last two years (I put the selling of second-rounders on ownership, not him) and I'm big on the one-year deal for Redick (the Jerryd Bayless and Amir Johnson signings? Not so much...), so he is in my good graces, but the whole Noel mess was still botched.
While I have the audience, there is something more serious I would like to touch upon. News broke yesterday that Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington had killed himself, another case in a long line of rock n' roll singers taking their own lives. I've been very public about my lifelong struggles with depression and anxiety for the better part of a year now, writing about those issues as they relate both to Carson Wentz and the Eagles, as well as our precious Sixers.
My life has been a rollercoaster for a long time now, though I truly believe I'm in the healthiest spot I've ever been in, both mentally and physically, because I sought help for the issues that had incessantly plagued me. It was hard, but I've very much become a better person after regularly meeting with a psychiatrist and therapist and changing a lot of my (self-destructive) habits. As I once wrote:
The weirdest and most confusing time in my life coincided with the weirdest and most confusing time in the history of the Sixers, maybe in the history of any sports team. We’re both trusting the process and on the right path. And if I’m being honest, we’re both getting there.
I'm saying this not just to hear myself talk, but to help. I think the biggest issue with people seeking treatment for their mental health is the stigma surrounding it. And I hate that. Talk to a friend, a parent, a sibling, a partner, a teacher, a counselor, anyone. Hell, talk to me even. Help is out there. Please find it if you are in need of it.