Philadelphia 76ers fans are wondering if Daryl Morey is going to spring a trade. If Morey targeted a player like Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray, as we analyzed earlier this week, or a supermax two-time All-Star like Zach LaVine, then it might cut into the summer “max cap space plan” they might have in mind too.
On the other hand, if they didn’t onboard any big-money names — for example, if they targeted a player like Dorian Finney-Smith in Brooklyn — there are potentially a few ways the Sixers (with a slew of expiring contracts and a few shiny new draft picks thanks to the James Harden trade) could still offer a max slot to a top-tier free agent.
One of those names Morey might have in mind, when weighing all these current season trade scenarios, could very well be Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar Paul George.
All of George, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden are set to be free agents come summer as of this writing.
PG and Kawhi both have player options for a whopping $48.7M they could exercise, but talents like that are typically more likely to opt out and sign new max deals. George, who will turn 34 come May, is an eight-time All-Star. And he’s likely headed for his ninth in a few weeks.
And that PG idea might be especially appealing to Morey.
Now, he’d have to trade for one of PG or Kawhi first in order to possess the Bird Rights needed to offer a fifth year. That’s not going to happen. But let’s just say, hypothetically speaking, the Clippers had another injury-addled playoff flameout. Could either of those top two studs be open to a change of scenery?
Maybe Paul George’s recent Embiid praise on the latest edition of the “Podcast P with Paul George” show could get Morey’s attention (even though he’s not allowed to tamper by contacting PG for another six months). But check out how PG compares Joel to a “modern day Shaquille O’Neal.”
George (averaging 23.2 ppg, 5.7 boards, 3.7 dimes, and 1.6 steals per game, connecting on 41 percent from distance) was asked by one of his co-hosts, Jackie Long, what’s impressed him the most about Joel Embiid this season, and how you go about stopping someone like Joel.
Here was what PG had to say about Embiid:
George: “I think the most impressive is obviously his availability. You know, you talk about Joel being injured and not playing games, but for the most part he’s held up. He’s been playing. But how do you stop him, bro? You can’t. Like you cannot stop him. He is — he should average 41 [points] this year, like you can’t stop him. He’s too big, he’s agile, he can shoot, he can step out from the three-point line.
Y’know, he’s just a big body, like he’s our generation and our version of Shaq. Like, I’m sure how teams had to match up with Shaq, there’s nobody we can put on Shaq. Bro, there’s nobody you can put on Joel. He’s goin’ to punish, you put a big on him he’s gonna go around him. You put a small on him, he’s goin’ to punish him.
He plays the big spot how a big is supposed to play.... he’s got it all. He doin’ the Euro [step], like what big man fucking got the Euro down? .... And he’s funny [mimes the Joel, WWE inspired ‘suck it’ celly Embiid was recently fined for doing].... I’m a big fan of Joel, man. And he’s someone that we got a good relationship. I got a good relationship with Joel. Every All-Star [game] we chop it up. We gotta get the big fella [on this show]. We need a bigger seat.... I definitely am a big fan of Joel.”
At one point Long mentioned Joel’s step back as well.
So if PG believes that Joel is the modern-day Shaq, and the Clippers don’t advance very far in these playoffs, perhaps Morey can make a real play for a top-tier star. Remember, if the Sixers do not use their draft picks before this deadline, they’ll be able to offer up to five first-rounders as well come the night of The 2024 NBA Draft.
That might even be enough draft capital to trade for another (much cheaper) player PG might have his eye on who could join them in Philly.
Morey, rolling up to FA to be Paul George after hearing his Joel Embiid praise on the latest PGPod— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) January 9, 2024
Anyway, the free-agent stuff may still just be a fantasy. But the mere prospect of being able to simply add a talent like PG into cap space, without breaking up the Embiid-Tyrese Maxey chemistry, has to give Morey some legit pause about onboarding a player like LaVine, whose salary would preclude signing max studs like George.
Embiid (battling a swollen left knee) is in the running for a third-consecutive scoring title and still has a real chance at back-to-back MVP trophies. Embiid is averaging an almost silly 34.6 ppg, 11.8 boards, 6 dimes, 2 blocks, and 1.1 steals per contest.
Regardless, it’s always fun when one of the game’s best and most well-respected two-way stars like PG truly appreciates Embiid and compares Joel to one of the most unstoppable forces of all time like Shaquille O’Neal.