Paul George’s Arrival Changes Everything for the Philadelphia 76ers (2024)

Daryl Morey is a master of the contingency plan. All possibilities are potential realities. Odds matter, but if something has a 0.0001 percent chance of happening, then it’s worth a discussion. Or a phone call. Or its own Post-it note on the proverbial white board in his brain (plus an actual white board somewhere inside his office). But at the dawn of a pivotal offseason that may ultimately define his tenure in Philadelphia, he didn’t need any of them.

After he traded James Harden to the Los Angeles Clippers (how ironic!) last fall for a package that consisted of draft picks and role players, his focus was 10 months into the future (instead of, controversially, that season’s trade deadline), when the Sixers would enter the summer with Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, and a blank canvas.


As unlikely as it felt last Halloween, when Harden went out the door and a third star didn’t immediately replace him, Paul George—who just agreed to a four-year, $212 million max contract with the Sixers—was almost certainly viewed as a best-case scenario: throw the NBA’s platonic ideal of a wing between a speedy, blooming point guard and a physically overwhelming MVP center. The only thing better than signing an All-Star in free agency is signing an All-Star who, on paper, fits seamlessly with your two franchise pillars.

Two hundred and fourty-four days after all that cap space was officially created, Morey didn’t have to sweat. His plan B, C, and Q were not necessary. George will fill several longtime holes in Philadelphia after a postseason that saw Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown assert themselves as the NBA’s top tandem and another division rival re-sign OG Anunoby and trade for Mikal Bridges (two other solutions Morey surely considered).

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George now gives the Sixers their own first-rate option on the wing, someone who’s perfectly cast as a costar and second fiddle, with a combination of size, length, playmaking expertise, and shotmaking chops that can’t be duplicated. George can run a devastating pick-and-roll with Embiid. Depending on the matchup, he can also set picks for Maxey or leverage his gravity by flying by with a ghost screen.

Several pages in Clippers head coach Ty Lue’s playbook were dedicated to getting George the ball at the elbow, isolated in space. Nick Nurse will copy them and enjoy the results. George’s role will be much more broad and elaborate than the one Tobias Harris filled over the past few seasons, but if the Sixers theoretically just decided to give PG all the touches and shots Harris had, their offense would still be exponentially harder to stop.

George’s comfort level sacrificing shots and touches is relevant here. We’ve seen him do it beside Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and Harden. Maxey is not the passer Harden was on last year’s Clippers, and there’s nobody in basketball who likes to shoot more than Embiid. Nurse will stagger minutes and likely ensure that every one that sees the two-time scoring champ on the bench also features George as Philly’s primary option. But what makes George so special, in general and on this team, is all the ways he can positively impact an offense without the ball in his hands. Not all stars are willing to move on the weak side and utilize their gravitational pull. George is, and the effect is humongous.

In Philly, he will be able to enter the ball to Embiid in the post and then position himself one pass away should the defense use his man to double. He will be able to stand in the corner and make sure his man thinks twice before they tag a rolling big (whether Embiid or the newly signed Andre Drummond).


Picture George setting the back screen in a stack pick-and-roll. Picture Maxey and Embiid running a side pick-and-roll as George flies off a wide pindown from the opposite corner. Picture Embiid setting a pindown for George and then getting in deep position by ducking into the restricted area as his man stunts to take away an open jumper.

Not to bury the lede, but George will be the most compatible teammate Embiid has ever had. And no disrespect to Jimmy Butler, but George might also be the most talented. There’s no style of play that can make him look awkward. He’s offensively versatile, defends multiple positions without help, and, when not asked to do everything at all times—which won’t happen in the playoffs if/when Embiid is healthy enough to play—has no relevant weakness to his skill set.

George is a go-to crunch-time option who can create shots for himself and others, too, whether demanding double-teams in the post or drilling pull-up 3s on an island. His true shooting in the clutch last season was 71.6 percent, one of the highest marks with a legitimate volume in the league.

Availability is really the only question. George logged more than 2,000 minutes last season. It was the first time he did that in a Clippers uniform. He also turned 34 in May and has a body that’s endured traumatic injuries (plural) and various surgeries. There’s a reason the Clippers weren’t willing to give him a fourth year despite the fact that he had one of the best on-off impacts in the league last season. As awesome as George is at just about everything, he missed the entire 2023 playoffs due to injury. And part of why the Clippers missed the 2022 playoffs was because George suited up for only 31 regular-season games. Father Time is around, decline is around the corner, and the championship window Morey just propped open coincides with one currently achieved in the East by the Celtics, Knicks, Bucks, and maybe one other team that’s soon to emerge, too.

On the matter of actually winning it all, star power gives you a chance, but depth gets you over the edge. Look at what happened to the Phoenix Suns this season versus what happened to the Boston Celtics. Another front office might’ve executed a different strategy, one that prefers a collection of several complementary role players—Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Klay Thompson, Caleb Martin, Derrick Jones Jr., Bruce Brown Jr., etc.—instead of one max contract.

As of this writing, we don’t know how Morey will round out his roster. In the opening hours of free agency, the Sixers agreed to a deal with Eric Gordon, but he will turn 36 on Christmas. They also brought back Drummond, but his first go-around with the Sixers wasn’t anything to write home about. Morey used the room exception to bring back Kelly Oubre Jr. and still has a few trade exceptions (including one worth $6.8 million that was created by the most recent Harden trade), a little bit of leftover cap space, and a whole bunch of draft picks to play with. Nicolas Batum and De’Anthony Melton are likely gone, and Kyle Lowry’s status is a question mark.

But in the short term, even before their 15-man roster is finalized, it’s impossible to look at the three best players on these Sixers and not label them a legit contender. There are few players alive who can carry Philadelphia’s offense when Embiid is on the bench, but George is good enough to solve that dilemma.

His presence doesn’t mean they’ll ultimately be good enough to reach the Finals or even advance past the second round (which, in case you weren’t aware, Embiid has never done), but it does justify Morey’s vision and patience. With mounting pressure and with questions swirling, Philadelphia’s chief architect did more than sketch the outlines of a grand cathedral on some blank plotter paper. He turned its theoretical construction into a tangible reality. Over a decade after the Process started, this fan base’s fantasy no longer solely exists in their collective imagination. Paul George was born to play this part. Now he, his two fellow All-Stars, and Morey all need the luck every championship run requires to see it through.

Paul George’s Arrival Changes Everything for the Philadelphia 76ers (2024)

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