The NBA Draft Lottery is just under a month away and that night is obviously one of the most important nights in the history of the 76ers franchise. However, Sam Hinkie does have more on his plate than just refreshing the ESPN lottery simulator ("Hey, Brett, you've got to see this, it says I'm going to pick Tyler Ennis!"). Believe it or not, he actually has some basketball decisions in front of him with the lovable, successful band of misfits he assembled on the floor this year.
Obviously, one of the goals of the Hinkie regime has been to clear out the Sixers cap sheet and give them a very favorable salary cap situation going forward. On that front, they've been undeniably successful. The 2014-15 salary cap is reported to be around $63 millon, a larger than expected $5 million increase over this year's cap. The Sixers have less than half of that tied up in guaranteed contracts this year. Their cap sheet is a work of art in an era where more GM's are financially prudent than ever before. (Still not Billy King though. He'll spend to the grave.)
The Sixers have put themselves in a powerful position to make roster decisions in large part based on merit rather than money, something they consistently showed a willingness to do throughout the year in jettisoning the Kwame Brown's and Eric Maynor's of the world to replace them with their non-guaranteed equivalents, the Jarvis Varnado's and Casper Ware's of the D-League underworld, starring Kate Beckinsale as every member of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
The Sixers cap sheet can be divided into three separate groups: Guaranteed, Options, and Non-Guaranteed. The Guaranteed are players who already have guaranteed contracts for the 2014-15. Some aren't guaranteed to be on the opening day roster, but they're getting paid regardless.
The Options group are guys who have player options for 2014-15, and thus have taken part of the decision out of the Hinkie's hands. Barring a stunning (in a good way!) turn of events, all of the players in this group are probably going to exercise their options. Again, they aren't necessarily guaranteed roster spots, but they're guaranteed money if they want it. (They probably do.)
The Non-Guaranteed group is where Hinkie's work really shines through. Part of the benefit of the season-long American Idol competition this team held to find the next great role player (Darius Johnson-Odom was "a little pitchy") is that half the roster is signed to incredibly team-friendly deals that bind them to the Sixers for the next one to three years, with almost no financial obligation to keep them (pocket change if anything, mostly out of pocket signing bonus money to sign undrafted free agents).
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Thaddeus Young ($9.4 million) - Thad has one guaranteed year left on his deal, and an early termination option after the 2014-15 season. The ETO really comes into play because it's Thad's leverage for a trade. Obviously, teams would be wary of trading serious assets for Thad if he's an expiring contract. Thad promising to stay for two years would alleviate some of those fears. Given Thad's reported desire to leave Philadelphia, it seems like that's a realistic possibility. (Thad also alluded to this possibility in his exit interviews last week.) However, Thad can also promise to exercise his ETO if a trade to an unfavorable location pops up. (Like Milwaukee, for example.)
Nerlens Noel ($3.3 million)
Michael Carter-Williams ($2.3 million) - Nothing to do here until October 31, when they would need to exercise both of their third-year team options on their rookie deals. Spoiler alert: They're getting picked up.
Tony Wroten ($1.2 million) - Wroten's locked in financially for 2014, and his $2.2 million fourth-year option would need to be picked up in October. If they were to cut him, the hit would be minimal, but if they like him, his contract is in the team's favor.
Arnett Moultrie ($1.1 million) - That's right. Doug Collins' last gift to Philadelphia has another year of guaranteed money rolling in. (He also has a fourth-year team option!) Hinkie can obviously decide just to cut him outright and pay him to go away (much like he did to Royce White), but his cap figure is on the books for 2014-15 unless they can find a sucker to take him in a trade for "future considerations" or "a bag of basketballs" or just "a basketball."
Jason Richardson ($6.6 million) - Still on the team! After a year and a half out of the game, Richardson obviously wouldn't sniff that kind of money on the open market, so his invoking his player option is a no-brainer. They could carry Richardson for the year as an expiring contract, but given how the market for expirings played out this season, they could also negotiate some sort of buyout for him similar to the Danny Granger Kerfuffle. He may never play for us again, but we'll still have his cap figure to remember him by.
Eric Maynor ($2.1 million) - Gee, I wonder if Eric Maynor will exercise his player option from a team that already outright released him, thus making his player option literally free money. I'm not even sure if he even has to exercise his option, or whether it's just automatically paid out in the event of a release. Regardless, this is just dead money on the cap sheet. Congratulations, Eric. Buy yourself something nice on us.
Byron Mullens ($1 million) - First off, what brain surgeon gave Byron Mullens a player option? What part of Byron Mullens' decision making over his NBA career made someone decide that this was a responsible thing to do? I wouldn't let Mullens decide where to order takeout from, let alone make million-dollar contract decisions. Objectively, he should exercise his option, because he's a terrible basketball player and we may have finally reached the point where nobody will ever give him a million dollars to play basketball again, which is always a remarkable achievement for a seven-feet-tall human being. That said, his exit interview didn't make it seem like he was already cashing his check to go buy baguettes with Moultrie, so who knows? All I can say for sure is that I will laugh for days if he opts for free agency. Cackle, even.
The beauty of this group is that all of the power lies with Hinkie on this one. (Hinkie have it all, you might say.) Most of these guys, should make a Sixers Summer League appearance. Their salaries don't count towards the cap until they make the opening night roster, and they aren't fully guaranteed until January 2015.
James Anderson ($981,000) - Anderson is interesting in that he is the only one of the non-guaranteed bunch who can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season. It's not likely that he's ever going to command a high salary in the league anyway, but without the obviously favorable contract heading forward, it wouldn't be a stretch to see them cut bait on Anderson, whether that's by throwing him into a trade somewhere or just letting him walk this year or next.
Henry Sims ($915,000) - This one has confused some people, but Sims is in fact under contract for 2014-15, and would become a restricted free agent after the season. Given his strong finish to the season and a favorable contract heading forward, we probably haven't seen the last of Sims.
With these guys, it's all up to Hinkie and Brett Brown. All of them have two more low-cost non-guaranteed years followed by a third year guaranteed team option, which means all of them are under team control through the 2016-17 season if the Sixers so choose. They can pick from who they like (Hollis!) and send everyone else home at no cost.
As it stands now, assuming all of the player options are in fact executed, the Sixers have about $27 million in guaranteed salary cap space occupied for 2014-15. They'll also have to budget some space for their lottery picks. In a hypothetical world where the lottery goes as it's supposed to, the cap hit for the #2 and #10 pick would tack on about $7.5 million, which still leaves the Sixers with around $29 million in cap space for the offseason. There's no reason for them to go hog wild and spend like crazy, but if the right guy hits the market, the Sixers are more than capable of acquiring him at whatever price.
The Sixers have quite possibly the best cap situation in the NBA right now. They're ready for whatever this offseason throws at them.