LeBron James to the 76ers is just a tease

Finally, the question has been answered. What would it take to divert civic attention from the dreadful plight of Nick Foles, who will be paid $7.6 million next season to continue mentoring Carson Wentz, which, by the way, is the deal he signed?

Now we know. It takes the unofficial dalliance between the Philadelphia 76ers and LeBron James, a flirt-by-social-media courtship that, if realized, could signal the passing of The Process and the start of The Endgame.

Will it happen? Maybe, but sometimes where there is smoke there is only smoke. Guessing what James really thinks or plans is a fool’s game. He has a player option to stay in Cleveland next season at $35 million, but LeBron is probably well beyond the point where money still matters. He has made more than $200 million in his career and has business holdings that approach the B-word. It isn’t about money. But what, exactly, it is about for James is anyone’s guess.

Championships? Sure, that’s a fine assumption. James has three at the moment, and folks like to speculate that he wants to equal the six titles won by Michael Jordan, his rival for GOAT. That wouldn’t touch the record, of course, which is held by Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA championships. In fact, Jordan is tied for 10th on that list. Robert Horry collected seven rings, for goodness sake. No one confuses him with Jordan.

Personally, I don’t think LeBron’s greatness will be defined by titles as he enters the legacy portion of his career. Will Perdue has more championships. So, what does that mean? He might see it differently, but LeBron James, at 33 years old with 15 seasons into the NBA, appears beyond the judgment reserved for lesser mortals.

From the Philadelphia perspective, things line up differently. The Sixers have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who shares representation with James, and plenty of salary cap space, and it just makes so much sense. Why wouldn’t he come here to become the final piece and make it all work?

Simmons has posted on social media his hope that the coming free-agent season will include the addition of James. As for LeBron himself, he teased the world with an Instagram shot in which he played NBA2K as the Sixers and highlighted a triple-double by Simmons.

These are the phantoms we are chasing. A Philadelphia-area company placed three billboards on I-480 outside Cleveland wooing James, and LeBron said it was flattering, but he acknowledged the bounds of tampering and left it pretty much at that.

I could be wrong, but I think LeBron James is playing the city of Philadelphia. Maybe not in a malicious way, but he doesn’t mind the attention. He abandoned his hometown once before and suffered being labeled a mercenary. Will he do it a second time?

His relationship with Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert is reportedly very rocky, but Cavaliers fans wouldn’t split that hair. If James decamps for another team, it would be regarded as another repudiation of his home.

If that is the way he chooses to go, would he select Philadelphia as the place to sign his last contract? Not the Lakers? James owns two $20 million homes in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, which seems like a bit much but it is more than he has in Sharon Hill.

Again, the perspective in our city is different, but it is also hinged on the continued health of a 7-foot-2 center with a spotty injury history and a 6-10 point guard with holes in his game. We like what we see, but the vision might not be the same from Cleveland.

I can see another LeBron James televised Decision Special, in which he draws out the suspense, and announces, after a good bit of drama, that he will be taking his talents … “nowhere.”

Staying in Cleveland to make it work again for the home folks. Cementing his legacy as an Ohio kid who wants the best for the fans there. Turning his back on the bright lights of L.A. and the bright future of Philly. Man, it will play well, and he will remain a reborn hero.

Meanwhile, The Process will continue in Philadelphia. A lot of how it comes out depends on whether Markelle Fultz can ever play, and whether Joel Embiid stays healthy, and whether Ben Simmons develops a jump shot. There are still needs to be filled, some of which would be filled nicely by James.

That feels like a tease, though; an Instagram photo that will fade, a Twitter post that will lead nowhere. Maybe it is better if the Sixers are on their own, building organically from within. The reward might be all the sweeter.

Everyone can see a billboard, but seeing past it is the trick. The Sixers need to see beyond LeBron James. He’s probably not coming, and that’s a shame. He would make things happen more easily, but let’s face it, easy has never been the path for these Sixers.