PHOENIX SUNS

76ers rule free agency by signing Paul George, extending Tyrese Maxey

Jul 1, 2024, 9:02 AM

Clipper wing Paul George...

Clippers forward Paul George (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Paul George ditched LA and decided to help form a new Big Three in Philly with Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. Of course, Maxey needed to stick around to complete the talented trio — and the Philadelphia 76ers went all in on lavish, long-term contracts to make that happen.

Up first, George agreed overnight to a four-year, $212 million free-agent contract after the nine-time All-Star spurned the Los Angeles Clippers. Maxey was on deck, and the first-time All-Star soon agreed in principle by sunrise Monday to a five-year, $204 million extension.

The 76ers threw down the gauntlet while most of the NBA was sleeping — committing more than $400 million in salary to two players they believe position them as the top contender to dethrone the NBA champion Boston Celtics.

Here they come, team of the year?

Hold up.

The 76ers have been down this high-priced, high-expectations road before without a championship to show for their efforts. They have failed to find the right pieces to field a winner around their franchise player Embiid, falling short in their star hunting with Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, James Harden, Al Horford and a list that goes on and on.

They’ll try again, this time with George in tow — not as the elite centerpiece he was asked to be in the past with Indiana, Oklahoma City and the Clippers, but in a complementary role to Embiid, hopeful his 34-year-old legs can hold up over the long haul to ease some of the burden on the 2023 NBA MVP. The 76ers were a bottom feeder when Embiid was hurt last season — and he’s often injured — so rolling the dice on a player widely considered the best available on the free-agent market was a chance team president Daryl Morey was willing to take.

George and Maxey intend to sign their contracts shortly after the league’s moratorium on signings is lifted on Saturday, a person with knowledge of the deals told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not yet finalized. Though the ink hasn’t hit the contracts yet, the 76ers already are a sports betting darling, jumping to an 8-1 favorite to win the 2025 title behind Boston and Denver, per BetMGM Sportsbook.

“We’re planning on being the best team in the East next season,” Morey said last week during the draft.

George at least should keep them in the mix in the East and give them a viable No. 1 scoring option when Embiid is out.

The 76ers finished 31-8 in the regular season with Embiid — about a 65-win pace — and a woeful 16-27 without him.

The Sixers were a play-in tournament team this season and lost to New York in the first round. The Knicks also made an early splash in their bid to remain in the championship picture. They agreed to a $210 million deal with OG Anunoby and are set to acquire Mikal Bridges from Brooklyn in deals that only increased the pressure on Morey to take a big swing at the free-agent fence.

Morey and the 76ers devised this plan as far back as a year ago when they asked Maxey to play out the final year of his rookie contract and wait a summer for an extension to free up the salary cap space needed to pursue free agents. Morey then took on only expiring contracts and draft picks in his deals throughout the season — notably in trading Harden to the Clippers and signing veteran Kyle Lowry to a short-term deal — that left the 76ers with essentially only Embiid and Maxey as the lone key holdovers on the roster once the season ended and roughly $65 million in cap space this summer.

“This offseason’s a big one,” Morey said after the 76ers were knocked out of the playoffs. “I owe it to the fans, to ownership, to everybody to get this team where we’re in a place where we’re competing for championships.”

George — who has averaged 20.8 points over a 14-year career — wanted to move on from the Clippers and declined a player option in his contract for $48.8 million in 2024-2025 that ended a five-year stretch with the team in which he averaged at least 21.5 points each season.

The Clippers’ attempt at winning it all with their Big Three of George, Kawhi Leonard and Harden fell flat.

“The gap was significant,” the Clippers said Sunday night in a news release. ”We understand and respect Paul’s decision to look elsewhere for his next contract.”

He looked all the way across the U.S. to Philadelphia.

George joins a Sixers team that has been a perennial underachiever, even as Embiid blossomed into one of the top players in the NBA. Philadelphia has not won an NBA title since 1983 or even advanced out of the second round of the playoffs since 2001.

Embiid, set to play this summer for Team USA at the Paris Olympics, fueled rumors that George was headed to Philly during a TV appearance together during the NBA Finals.

“Hopefully this offseason, we find a way to get better, and you know,” Embiid said, pausing to side-eye George, “add some pieces.”

The 76ers did strengthen their roster with the expected addition of center Andre Drummond and Eric Gordon and the return of Kelly Oubre Jr. in more deals expected to be announced as early as Saturday. The 76ers are also high on first-round draft pick Jared McCain out of Duke. And George is an upgrade in talent over the departed — and much-maligned — Tobias Harris.

Maxey was named the league’s most improved player this season. His scoring rose for the third consecutive year, and he finished the regular season averaging 25.9 points, 6.2 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game — all career bests.

George is a six-time member of the All-NBA Team. He’s a four-time member of the NBA All-Defensive Team and was the league’s most improved player in 2013. He was a finalist for both NBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, when he led the league with 2.21 steals per contest. George also has never played in an NBA Finals.

Much like Embiid’s, George’s injury history should give the 76ers reason for some concern. George played 76 games last season, the first time he played more than 56 since 2018-19.

Still, with few available options, and money to burn, the 76ers had little choice but to chase an aging — yet still elite — star such as George.

“It’s a big offseason for us,” Morey said in May. “We obviously have two great studs to build around in Joel and Tyrese.”

They hope they found a third one in George.

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76ers rule free agency by signing Paul George, extending Tyrese Maxey