LeBron James guarded Ben Simmons for the first time Monday, when the Cavaliers came to town to face the upstart Sixers.
And even though the Cavaliers cruised to a 113-91 victory, Sixers fans watching in the packed arena and at home on TV couldn't help but contemplate a future that might include LeBron James.
The two large and talented men, friends for over a year now as Simmons and James share an agent (and Simmons' sister Emily Bush works for said agency) jockeyed for rebounds in a physical game between the budding Sixers and waning Cavs. Simmons left midway through the fourth quarter after twisting his ankle a bit. James scored 30 points while the rookie had 10.
Comparisons between the two have run rampant all season but are a bit premature.
"I get it. I understand it. But Ben hasn't done, and we haven't done, anything yet," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "And personally, I have been privileged. Sort of my NBA life has been [James']. I've seen LeBron from day one. And you've seen him grow. He's amazing. He is amazing. On the court, how he handles his responsibility on that stage. Off the court, I think he's got an element of grace, how he handles himself and carries the NBA logo with a tremendous amount of pride."
"I'd be annoyed, too, if somebody was comparing me to a rookie," Simmons added. "You shouldn't compare me to somebody like that. Not yet."
With the Sixers set to have more than $40 million in salary cap space when J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson come off the books in 2018, there will be plenty of money for a big name free agent.
Is James staying in Cleveland? Is he going to LA? Could he come to Philly?
The Simmons connection already exists, as does his newly minted love for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
"My favorite player right now is Carson Wentz," James said Monday. "He's a very smart player from the outside looking in, obviously, and they've got a really good team. I'm a Cowboys fan, I'm a Browns fan, but I'm a fan of sports and I know sports."
There may not be a more desirable free agent destination — aside from the slightly less talented but beter climated Los Angeles — than Philadelphia over the next couple seasons.
With Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric and Robert Covington all locked in for the long haul, a superstar mercenary, paired with the eventual NBA maturity of the aforementioned 76ers players, Philly is a premiere basketball city once again.