LeBron’s Homecoming Changes Everything for the Sixers

BY PAUL MANCANO – ESPN deemed LeBron James’ announcement of his return to Cleveland SO important that it was deserving of the entire sidebar. Just a giant picture of LeBron in a Cavs jersey where the rest of the headlines should have been. There it stood for pretty much the rest of the day. Baseball, World Cup, and other NBA signing news be damned, clearly this was the only sporting news of July 11, 2014.

Snarky Deadspin-esque commentary aside, this is obviously a huge deal for every team in the league. Loaded with young talent and a perfectly ripe LeBron, the Cavaliers will likely be the team to beat for the next, I don’t know, eight years. LeBron isn’t even 30 yet. Andrew Wiggins is 19. Kyrie Irving is 22. Not to mention trade target Kevin Love is 25. How did this team stumble upon so much great, young talent? Because the NBA is stupid and one team can get three number-one picks in four years because of the bounce of a damn ping-pong ball. No, I’m not bitter at all.

But what’s done is done, and now the Cavs are set up to win for a long, long time. Which really sucks cause we got this team here in Philly that’s also loaded with young talent but doesn’t have LeBron James.

The Sixers’ fanbase has embraced the rebuild surprisingly well. It knows that the ceiling of this team is limitless. Up until this point, a lot of fans have been talking about the Hinki-fied Sixers like LeBron talked about the Heat during the Big Three Bash in 2010. Not five… not six… not seven…

Now, what once seemed like destiny has become less certain, despite what Joel Embiid might think. (Don’t you just love his boyish optimism? It’s so refreshing.)

The Sixers could end up being the Utah Jazz of the ’90s: a great team with great players that could never get over that “Jordan hump” (that sounded better in my head). The team that went to six Conference Finals in eight years, but was always thwarted by the likes of Jordan or
Olajuwon. The team that almost certainly would have eeked out at least one title had it been cut-and-pasted into, say, the late ’70s. But that’s just not how it works in the NBA. You’re judged by how you rank next to your peers, and the Stockton-era Jazz fell short. Thus could also be the fate of the late 2010s/early 2020s Sixers.

Given the reasonable time frame laid out by Brett Brown and Sam Hinkie, it looks like the peaks of both the Sixers and the Cavs will occur at about the same time. It doesn’t help matters that both Noel and Embiid have a history of injuries, which could shorten the title window.

For now, though, it’s a little too early to be worried about who might steal a title away from this championship-starved city in 2020. Noel and Embiid could be the next Twin Towers, Saric could be the next Toni Kukoc, and KJ McDaniels could be the Sixth Man of the Year in 2018. We could still win 24 championships and Embiid could still grab 19 unanimous MVP Awards. But with LeBron’s shadow now blocking the Sixers’ ray of hope, I have such doubts.

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