We've finally reached the elite eight. You can read each part that preceded this at the links below:
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
- Part 4
8. Cap Space
Cap space as an entity is an asset, but the extent to which you are willing to use it ultimately determines its value. Renting out cap space as an asset-building tool has netted the 76ers two first round picks, three first round pick swaps, and countless second round picks since the 2013 Draft, not including players traded for (so not counting Nik Stauskas, for instance). It's an unprecedented, astounding use of cap space never done before on such a wide scale.
Assuming J.P. Tokoto and Jordan McRae sign for minimum contracts, the Sixers currently have approximately $12.3M in cap room and the ability to create more via releasing players with contracts that are not guaranteed to players until they are on the opening night roster.
Cap space per dollar is less valuable now than at any point in recent NBA memory because of the exploding cap, but having it to relieve teams of their contracts (and getting draft considerations) or simply using it in free agency is still super valuable, especially more than one year down the road.
7. Robert Covington
Contract: 2 nonguaranteed seasons ($1,000,000 and three year minimum of $1,015,696) and a team option ($1,087,745)
Remember when Robert Covington's representatives and the 76ers were in negotiations for what seemed like a couple of weeks because Covington wanted more money than what the Sixers were offering as part of their standard fringe NBA player contract? Gosh, that seems like forever ago. Since then, Commander Covington has proven himself to be (at a minimum) an NBA rotation player entering the prime of his career on a contract that, as a percentage of the team cap, is miniscule.
That negotiation ultimately got Covington more upfront money. But Covington being close to a building block player at his age, salary, and time of career makes him super valuable.
Covington has had some good fortune in signing with two teams that suit his strength - he likes to shoot elbow three pointers more than I like to do any single thing in life. He attempted more than eight threes per 36 minutes played. Despite the constant pressure he faced - more of his shots were contested than uncontested per the NBA's player tracking stats database - he hit 37.4% of threes and post a more-than-respectable overall shooting efficiency.
A late-lottery team with aspirations for contention totally should have made offers for him - the Thunder and the Suns, for instance, took rookies as they eye contention with the 13th and 14th picks in the 2015 draft. Robert Covington is more valuable now, at his salary, than either player taken in those spots for a good team, and he's young enough to potentially improve.
6. 2017 Sixers First Round Pick (rights to swap with Sacramento)
5. Dario Saric
Contract: none, rights held, contracted with Anadolu Efes through 2017 with buyout after 2016
I love the way Dario Saric plays basketball, as someone who is rooting for him to improve and play well and building value and come to Philadelphia and win a championship. If he were on another NBA team, I'm not sure I'd like him at all. Saric plays the irritant with bravado, smooth in every way except when he dives on the floor or takes a charge or does something to get under his opponent's skin.
He's also a skilled big that likes to pass, an aesthetically pleasing and effective combo in the modern NBA. He's proven himself to be a great European and Croatian national team player already and should be among the best rookies of his class whenever he joins the NBA.
I have confidence, after reports indicated his desire to join the 76ers in the United States as soon as possible, that he'll be over after the 2015-16 season, and on a rookie scale deal one year earlier than a Sixers pick (with Sacramento rights) that may not be as good if the Sixers' trajectory shoots upward in the next two seasons. That pick is a certainly great asset, but the uncertainty and the awesomeness that is the Homie Dario embolden me to put Saric in the top five.
4. 2016 Lakers Protected First Round Pick
The Lakers pick is now only top 3 protected, and that the Sixers received it for ongoing trainwreck Michael Carter-Williams (I still believe though!) makes the trade a clear win.
In what might be Kobe Bryant's final NBA season, the Lakers will still be bad, especially given the volatile nature of Bryant coming off a season straight injury-shortened season. I won't dare to test the resolve of Kobe, but he wasn't very effective coming off injury last season, and he will not go gently into that good night.
Which is to say - between having multiple chuckers (Bryant, Nick Young, and for some reason Lou Williams) surrounding promising young players who need time and guidance (D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson) and Roy Hibbert with a clueless defensive coach (Byron Scott) - this team isn't any good and will not lack for fireworks and turmoil. The Lakers should improve as the youth age and as Bryant finally bids adieu, so this year is the best for this to convert.
Still - the Lakers are still a couple of years away from contention, so this pick should retain big value going forward. The odds of getting a top five pick with it this season leave me salivating.
3. Nerlens Noel
Contract: 1 year, $3,457,800 guaranteed, 1 year team option worth $4,384,890 (will be a restricted free agent after this season)
2. 2016 Sixers First Round Pick (rights to swap with Sacramento)
Other than "where the heck does cap space go" this was my toughest order of selection near the top of the list. It in some way was the impetus for this list due to the "would you rather" that many people posed after the trade with the Sacramento Kings.
The swap rights with Sacramento in the 2016 and 2017 drafts, in my opinion, were the true coup for the Sixers in the salary dump trade that also netted Nik Stauskas and a future first round pick for taking on contracts. The Sixers could have as high as a 45% chance at a number one overall pick this season based on the pick swaps. The Sixers should still be a bottom three NBA team, and the Kings are dysfunctional enough for everything to fall apart despite their on-paper improvement.
Nerlens Noel is fantastic, the quality of player you hope to draft with a top pick just based off his defense alone. However, his fit with the players drafted since is the biggest thing working against him. Noel is a center; pairing him with another center, especially one without shooting range, will strangle an offense in the short-term no matter how creatively you gasp for air. That fit with a more valuable player in Okafor, or even a healthy Embiid, make it seem like Noel is the odd man out eventually.
Noel is a future perennial defensive player of the year candidate, someone you can build a defense around. But despite his one year of NBA experience, he only has two seasons left on his contract before a large pay raise hits, and teams will not be comfortable giving him a max contract until he improves on offense. That shorter-term low salary compared to what a top pick would have leaves me thinking the pick is more valuable than Noel.
1. Jahlil Okafor
Contract: 2 years, $9,371,520 guaranteed, two team options at $4,995,120 and $6,313,832
Don't think too hard about this: a potential franchise center with little injury history entering his rookie season is one of the most valuable players in the NBA. He's a number one overall caliber talent and the future of this franchise. He's an unquestioned number one asset, with a minimum of five years of guaranteed team control at a reasonable salary and up to nine years if Okafor signs long-term (and whatever new CBA does not reduce the maximum number of years in a contract).
Okafor doesn't turn 20-years-old until December, which hurts to type as someone much older than that. He comes into the NBA as one of the league's premiere post players. We should be very, very excited.