Report: 76ers discussed signing RFAs Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard

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Julius Erving said 76ers officials told him – somewhere around the time Josh Harris bought the franchise in 2011 and hired Sam Hinkie in 2013 – they were on a seven-year plan.

It’s believable.

Philadelphia has patiently rebuilt, stripping its roster of most of its good players in exchange for draft picks. The 76ers haven’t shown much interest in competing in free agency. Their trades have been about getting more draft picks, not adding win-now talent or balancing the roster.

But when Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard were free agents this summer…

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

Philly sniffed around offer sheet possibilities for Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard, sources say, but that’s basic due diligence.

This doesn’t matter too much, because I think the Bulls and Spurs would have matched any offer sheet – easily.

So why would the 76ers do this?

1. If conventional wisdom is wrong about the likelihood of matching, they would have gotten Butler or Leonard. Philadelphia is tanking to maximize its chances of getting players as good as Butler or Leonard. If the 76ers could just sign one outright, they’d quickly shift toward trying to win now.

2. It ensured Chicago and San Antonio – Philadelphia’s competitors – would pay as much as possible for the free agents. That might make a difference if either of those opponents are truly competing with the 76ers for a free agent over the next few years. The Bulls and Spurs now have sizable portions of their cap tied up.

3. As Danny Leroux proposed at Sporting News, this could help the 76ers repair their reputation with agents – some of whom resent Philadelphia’s thriftiness. Turns out, the Bulls and Spurs were happy give Butler and Leonard huge contracts. But if either team resisted, the 76ers could have helped the players get their desired deal through a sure-to-be-matched offer sheet.

Make no mistake: The 76ers are tanking, and they’re not going to ditch their plan for modest improvement.

But they’re not so devoted to losing that they’ll turn down Butler or Leonard.

Those two are franchise changers.