As NBA free agency opens Friday, the Sixers have an obscene amount of cap space at their disposal.
Frankly, they have too much cap space, and they know it. So does the rest of the league, and while the short answer would be “give out max deals to top free agents and get good” that only works if those top free agents agree to sign with the Sixers. That’s not going to happen.
We’re better than this. The Sixers may not be, yet, but we sure as heck have to be. Dwyane Wade isn’t coming to Philly, no matter how hard you kick his tires. Kevin Durant isn’t coming here either. Sorry, neither are Mike Conley or DeMar Derozan.
Too many conversations in Philly right now start with “just go buy guys, even if you have to overpay them” and that works in baseball or maybe football, but in a NBA cap situation where every level of salary is essentially slotted to a specific dollar figure and number of years, overpaying for anyone is nearly impossible.
Wade will get a better offer to stay in Miami than he could ever get with the Sixers. The NBA is set up to protect teams from losing their top stars. Also: If he does opt to leave Miami, the are 10 other teams he’d go to before he comes here. Why would a guy at the end of his career want to join a nascent rebuilding program like the Sixers?
“You never know until you try” is faulty logic. You do know. The NBA isn’t some compartmentalized terrarium where the salamanders never interact with the snakes (note: the Sixers are the salamanders). The NBA is its own living ecosystem, where everyone interacts with everyone else. The knock on Sam Hinkie wasn’t that he didn’t talk to other teams when he was here, it’s that every time he did he tried to bite another GM’s head off.
Bryan Colangelo is noticeably less predatory, and while that may not benefit the Sixers in terms of getting back max value for their existing talent, it will help them move a player or two that need moving.
Surely Colangelo and his staff have touched base with every agent. He wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t request a meeting with Durant, for example, but he wouldn’t be good at his job if he expects so much as a phone call back.
And yet, that cap floor is out there. The Sixers have to pay someone.
The NBA salary cap will be roughly $93 million, up more than $20 million from last season thanks to the monstrous TV deal the league signed. The Sixers won’t have to worry about that number, but they will be interested in how it impacts the salary floor.
According to Spotrac, the Sixers have a payroll currently under $35 million and after paying their just-drafted rookies and any existing hold-over players who are currently out of contract, the team should hit somewhere near $45 million as the roster currently stands.
The NBA salary floor is 90 percent of the salary cap, which will work out to more than $83 million.
Again, this cannot be stressed enough, Sixers will have less than $50 million in salary in 2016-17 — that’s way less right now — and have to somehow hit $83 million by season’s end. How is that possible?
Here are a few ways:
First, they can pay good players. Sign two free agents to max contracts and turn this team into an instant Eastern Conference killer. Given how much Joakim Noah is going to get from the Knicks — a reported $18 million — the Sixers may have to sign three players at that level to get to the salary floor.
Two problems there: The team finally has a roster everybody likes (with one too many big and two too few guards, sure) so it’s silly to go spend on three high-priced free agents in a weak market… even if there were three free agents who would want to come to Philly!
The Sixers could “overpay” for one or two of the players not in line for a max deal, but is that something anyone wants? That kind of loose spending is what got the Sixers in trouble in the first place.
Trades can help. Keith Pompey reported that Toronto is interested in Nerlens Noel and are willing to give up Terrence Ross and some other pieces, which would not only take care of the Sixers glut of bigs, but also add about six or seven million in salary for next year. If it looks like Noel isn’t part of the long-term plans — the realities of his contract means he could be gone next year if not this year — then maybe that deal makes sense if the Sixers want to dump a young rim protector for a backup shooting guard they hope can turn into a starter.
And even still, that doesn’t the Sixers anywhere near the salary floor. Which means either…
…The search for the next JaVale McGee begins now, as the Sixers will, again, happily take on a bloated contract or two for future draft picks so they can get beyond the threshold, or….
…pay them. Pay those men that money.
The salary floor is a nonsense threshold, brought on because the NBAPA wants to make sure teams aren’t lowballing the players across the league. Nobody in the NBA really cares if the Sixers have a payroll that’s less than half percent of the salary cap, because the likelihood they can field a competitive team that way is nil. It’s the players who want to get paid, so if a team isn’t above the salary floor by the end of the year, that money has to go to those players on the roster.
So pay them. Pay the Sixers that money.
The players who have been here for the bulk of this rebuilding process deserve a bonus anyway.
That, or go get Wade and Durant and trade Okafor or Noel for a young three-point specialist and win the NBA title next year. You have the money, Sixers and you’ll never know until you try. Right?