Are Sixers Title Contenders With George?

In past years, I've heard casual — and sometimes even diehard — NBA fans pontificate that July is the most exciting month of the league calendar due to the depth of player movement, rumors, and wrestling-like narrative drama.

Not only do I think it's a bit preposterous to say that off-court stories are better than the actual sport of basketball being played, it's quite overstated.

As a reminder, superstars don't move teams every year in the NBA. No matter if the soft salary cap is $60 million for a team or $140 million, it's very tough for a top-10 or 20 player to turn down a fifth year of salary and bolt for a new team.

Additionally, top players want to compete for championships, and teams with self-styled championship aspirations don't usually have the cap space for a max contract or the desire to give back players in a sign-and-trade.

Like the summer of 2019 when Kawhi Leonard joined the Clippers in free agency, 2024 will go down as an offseason where a big name changed teams thanks to a playoff team having tons of cap room to part with. And yet, I'm not sure Paul George joining the Sixers is the the title-contending move some are making out to be.

In theory, Philadelphia now has a monster Big Three with George, Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey. All three players can shoot, Embiid can control the paint on both ends, George can match up against the opponent's best perimeter player, and George and Maxey can create slash-and-kick opportunities for others.

Then, there's the reality check. Joel Embiid has never played 70 games in a season, and has a lot of injuries and miles on his body. While he's had some memorable playoff series and games, he seems to always underperform versus his regular season standards and is hobbling or returning from injury once late April comes around.

George is probably more reliable than Embiid, but last season was his only season of five with the Clippers where he played more than 75% of all regular-season games. He'll also be in his 15th NBA season in 2024-25 and turn 35 around the time the second round starts.

Maxey, the reigning Most Improved Player, won't turn 24 until the start of this coming season. If George and Embiid have to be load-managed, he'll be expected to shoulder the offensive burden — just as he did when Embiid missed all of February and March this past season. Maxey is undoubtedly an all-star-caliber player, but he's not at the Luka Doncic or Anthony Edwards level of being able to carry a team when other top-tier players are out — as evidenced by the Sixers' 11-18 record during the consecutive months Embiid missed.

Sixers GM Daryl Morey has the philosophy of packing as many stars as possible onto his teams. In his mind, if you have two of the best 15-20 players in the league or three of the best 25-30, you've got a great chance of being a title-winning team. Perhaps that's a little bit reductive to "Moreyball," but I can't help but look at the rest of the Sixers projected roster after Embiid, George, and Maxey.

The roster-building process isn't complete and won't be for some time, but the rest of Philadelphia's team besides the top three is currently Andre Drummond, Kelly Oubre, Eric Gordon, Jared McCain, Paul Reed, and Ricky Council IV — with Reed and Council as non-guaranteed contracts.

Much like the Suns last summer, Philly is going to have to build out a 15-man roster with a lot of minimum contracts and, frankly, players who wouldn't be rotation-quality with many other contenders. We saw last year how uneven the Suns played - and how thoroughly outclassed they were by Minnesota, a younger, more dynamic team with a legitimate seven-man playoff rotation.

I'll give you that the Sixers are likely a shoe-in for around 45-50 wins and a top-six East seed. If Embiid can stay healthy for the season, that number probably moves up to 50-55. But I don't think they currently have a better team than the Celtics, Knicks, or Bucks in the East.

Currently, the oddsmakers think Philadelphia is a top-five contender for next year's title. FanDuel has them at No. 3 behind the Thunder and Celtics at +850, Caesars has the Sixers tied for No. 2 at +700 with the Nuggets, and DraftKings has Philly at No. 2 at +800. Unless some quality role players take a discount to ring-chase with the Sixers, I don't see it happening for an injury-prone star core.

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