On paper, the 76ers are the biggest losers in the trade of Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors.
That's because the Sixers haven't improved this offseason – on paper. You never know. If Markelle Fultz comes back and somehow plays close to an NBA all-star level, then and only then are the Sixers better. But on paper, the Sixers have not improved. In fact, they are probably weaker than they were at the conclusion of last season because of losing Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.
In their effort to go "star-hunting," the Sixers tried to lure LeBron James and Paul George in free agency and Leonard via a trade from the Spurs.
George signed a four-year, $137 million deal to return to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Strike one.
James signed a four-year, $153 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. Strike two.
Then on Wednesday, the Raptors received Leonard and Danny Green in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a top-20-protected 2019 first-round pick. Strikeout.
Not only did the Sixers miss out on trading for Leonard, the two-time defensive player of the year made one of their Atlantic Division rivals a better team.
On paper, the Raptors have more talent than they had this past season, when they had the Eastern Conference's best record, 59-23. That squad was swept in the second round of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As a result, Toronto is arguably the conference's second-best team behind the Boston Celtics heading into this season. The Sixers, who failed to make any upgrades and lost Leonard to a rival, dropped from second to third after the Raptors-Spurs trade. And they might have to hold off the Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, and Milwaukee Bucks, who all made offseason upgrades.
Leonard, who is entering the final year of his contract, isn't excited about being traded to the Raptors. The expectation is that Leonard will leave Toronto for his hometown of Los Angeles after the 2018-19 season. Toronto president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri is determined to persuade Leonard to stay with the Raptors past this season. Assuming he does leave, the Raptors will begin rebuilding.
However, at least for one season, the Raptors have upgraded from a star in DeRozan to a superstar in Leonard.
This was supposed to be the season the Sixers made a superstar acquisition.
The goal was to add James, George, or Leonard to play alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and be in position to win a title.
"I think a high-level free agent is required," Sixers coach and interim general manager Brett Brown said during his season-ending news conference on May 11. "I feel like we have the ability to attract one."
The Sixers even made a draft-night trade with the hope of helping their chances to get Leonard. They drafted Mikal Bridges 10th overall and sent the Villanova all-American to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for their No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith, and the Miami Heat's unprotected 2021 first-round pick.
"I'm here to win a championship," Brown said. "We are star-hunting … [and] you need assets to trade for a star. That unprotected pick is gold."
But the Sixers have had a less-than-stellar offseason. One could argue that it's embarrassing, considering the Nemanja Bjelica situation.
The same day that Leonard was traded, news broke that Bjelica, who spurned the Sixers, will discuss a free-agent deal with the Sacramento Kings.
Bjelica, who played for the Minnesota Timberwolves the past three seasons, had reached an agreement July 5 with the Sixers on a one-year, mid-level exception for $4.45 million. However, the 6-foot-10 Serbian forward informed the Sixers on Tuesday morning that he wanted to remain in Europe next season.
He was supposed to take Ilyasova's place as a sharpshooting big off the bench. The Sixers were also impressed that he was versatile enough to play small forward. But he's reportedly pursuing the Kings because they can offer him more money than the Sixers.
The Sixers did acquire Wilson Chandler in a trade with the Denver Nuggets this offseason. The deal is regarded as a salary dump for the Nuggets. However, the Sixers view the forward as someone who can help them make another postseason run.
The problem is that this past season's postseason run had a lot to do with late-season acquisitions of Belinelli (Feb. 12) and Ilyasova (Feb 28).
The Sixers were 29-25 before Belinelli played in his first game. They improved to 32-27 by the time Ilyasova signed with 23 games remaining. With him and Belinelli leading the second unit, the Sixers went 20-3 the rest of the regular season, highlighted by an NBA-record 16 straight wins to conclude a season.
The pressure is now on the Sixers to get a star next summer.
They'll have the cap space to sign a player to a maximum-salary contract because of re-signing JJ Redick and Amir Johnson to one-year deals for this season. Chandler and reserves Jerryd Bayless are also in the final year of their guaranteed deals.
But it's important to make the move next summer, because they could lose their cap space beginning in the 2020-21 season, when Simmons and Saric can receive lucrative contract extension.
The hope is that Fultz can become the superstar the Sixers will need to make it out of the Eastern Conference this season.
But that's a lofty expectation for the 2017 first-round draft pick, who missed all but 14 regular-season games. The Sixers have said he was hampered by a shoulder injury, but several sources said his shooting woes were a results of the yips. He's spending the summer in California working with independent shooting coach Drew Hanlen.