The Eastern Conference, which was just starting to look more competitive than it had in the last decade, took a major hit on Sunday night when LeBron James decided to join the Los Angeles Lakers.
Not only did the biggest name in the game leave the East for the left coast, but he was the second of the 76ers' big-time targets to dash Philadelphia's hopes.
With Oklahoma City securing Paul George, the reigning Warriors still intact, the Houston Rockets nipping at the champions' heels, and King James ruling the City of Angels, the Western Conference — already the dominant of the two — just got stronger.
But don't despair just yet. This could end up benefiting the Sixers.
All of these star-studded, playoff-bound teams in the West will have to fight through each other in order to get to the NBA Finals. They will have to battle through the best the league has to offer in what will certainly be multiple grueling playoff rounds.
The silver lining for the Sixers? The path to the top in the East has been cleared. Even though Philly has yet to acquire a big name this offseason, it has only one significant threat within its own conference: the Boston Celtics.
Now that both James and George are off the table, the Sixers' focus will shift to the Kawhi Leonard — the Spurs' all-star for whom the Sixers are still trying to trade. But the domino effect of James' decision will be a factor in that matter too.
Not only will the Lakers be making a huge push for Leonard to join James and remake the roster, but it's long been known that Leonard wants to play in L.A. and wants to play next to James. With one year remaining on his contract, there's no guarantee he would re-sign with any team he was traded to.
What this means is that the Sixers would have to put together an aggressive trade package that would almost certainly include Dario Saric and Robert Covington in return for a one-year rental of Leonard.
If the goal is to be the dominant force in the Eastern Conference for years to come, the Sixers' best bet might be to continue development and make some smaller moves on the free-agent market.
Since the Sixers will have a large amount of cap space next year as well, it might be best to wait instead of breaking the bank in a trade for Leonard.
For right now, the Sixers have missed out on George and James, and the chances for Leonard are looking slimmer.