Alford: Sixers still in great shape despite no Kawhi Leonard

The NBA world was sent into a frenzy on Wednesday morning due to another seismic shift between the Eastern and the Western conferences. The San Antonio Spurs traded disgruntled superstar Kawhi Leonard and guard Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poelt, and a protected 2019 first-round pick, according to ESPN.

The trade came out of left field as the Raptors weren’t viewed as a logical option for Leonard until later in the sweepstakes. 

For most of the summer, we heard that the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers and to a lesser extent the Boston Celtics were all interested in acquiring one of the game’s best two-way players.

It was initially reported that the Spurs wanted an exorbitant amount of young players plus picks in exchange for Leonard.

However, as we found out on Wednesday, San Antonio reportedly had no interest in that type of a package.

None of these teams, including the Sixers, were willing to trade away their future for a player, who is considered to be a one-year rental this upcoming season.

Sticking with the Sixers, it seemed like if Leonard were to be traded to a team in the Eastern Conference it would be them. And maybe there would have been a chance Leonard re-signed with Philadelphia long-term.

Obviously, that was not in the cards for the Sixers and that is perfectly fine. It is all about the long-term success for Philadelphia, not the let us go win a championship now mode.

But for some die-hard Sixers fans, it is still a tough pill to swallow that Leonard will be playing in the East this upcoming season.

Last month, fans got caught up on head coach Brett Brown saying a day after the NBA Draft that the team was “star-hunting.” Once Brown said those words, the expectation was set that the Sixers had to grab a star this offseason.

There were two stars, in particular, that were on the Sixers’ radar and they go by the names of LeBron James and Leonard.

Even though Philadelphia did not get either of those guys, they are still in great shape to make some noise in the East.

Late last month, it was reported that the Sixers “held internal discussions” about giving up Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and a future first-round pick in a trade for Leonard, but not Markelle Fultz.

Let us just say the trade came together and worked out.

In the short-term, Philadelphia would be the top team in the East with a formidable trio of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Leonard. On the other hand, they lose key pieces to their core that all do things extremely well.

Again, it is about the process and building this team into a championship contender for years to come. Leonard does not guarantee long-term success because he will want to test free agency next summer.

This is the problem that the Raptors and their general manager Masai Ujiri face. They have to convince Leonard, who reportedly wasn’t happy about being traded to Toronto, to consider staying long-term.

Leonard will likely be out next season and Toronto will be left picking up the pieces.

This means that Toronto will have a significant drop-off in the next few years and will be in rebuilding mode. If that’s the case, then the Sixers’ road to winning the East gets that much easier and only the Boston Celtics stand in their way.

There’s also the New York Knicks too, but that’s more of a 2019-20 season discussion. The Sixers are in a great spot to do big things in the East and have the pieces to do it.

Despite not landing their star this summer, they can still get Leonard or maybe someone else next summer. The sky is not falling Sixers fans and the offseason was not a disappointment.

Rather, it was a success because of the solid veteran additions on short-term deals (J.J. Redick, Wilson Chandler, Amir Johnson) and the younger players only getting better.

Philadelphia will get their “star” sooner than later.

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