NBA free agency begins in just 10 hours. While the Philadelphia 76ers may be rumored to be talking to agents about one-year contracts for veterans (my not-educated guess is for an Ersan Ilyasova reunion with a laughably large one-year contract number, for what it’s worth), they have enough cap space for the next couple of years to comfortably add a high-priced free agent to their roster and still have space to extend their own players.
Two potential targets that fit needs for the team, and are young enough to contribute to a really good team, are a pair of restricted free agent (RFA) wing players: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Otto Porter*. KCP stands out as an aggressive defender who makes up for his lack of wingspan with a bulldog mentality, a younger, worse-shooting Avery Bradley without the Celtics’ popularity. Porter is a better offensive player who shot very well and can make plays with or without the basketball in his hands.
*I would mention a third prominent restricted free agent, but at last check he was being traded for fake first round picks that were sold for chump change. Yes, I’m still bitter about that.
But due to their restricted status, KCP and Porter have little control over whether they end up as Sixers even if the players sign offer sheets with the team. Should the Sixers even bother trying to sign RFAs?
There are two issues inherent with targeting RFAs. The first is that the likelihood of signing an RFA is contingent on a massive valuation difference between the player’s current team and your own offer. Either the two teams have drastically different views of a player’s future production or the predatory team must intentionally overpay relative to the rest of the market, which in a capped league (where underpaying your own players the most is vital for success) is not a good option. If the player were so good in the first place, the player and team likely would have negotiated an extension, or a max offer would be on the table even before free agency opens. The second is that, even if the RFA’s original team agrees to match the offer sheet, the cap space needed to sign the player is locked until the offer sheet is matched. It can’t be used to sign other free agents in the meantime.
Complicating this at the beginning of free agency is the six-day Moratorium the league uses to finalize the calculation of basketball-related income (BRI) which is used to set the salary cap at the beginning of July. This takes place during the NBA’s fiscal year-end close process. Shout out to the accountants. Teams currently have an estimated cap balance of $99 million to work with right now which will be formalized at the end of the Moratorium. Contracts can be negotiated at midnight on July 1st, but the player’s current team must be presented with the contract only after that ends on July 7th, and that team has 72 hours to match the deal. No teams ever match immediately, meaning that cap space is locked up through July 10th.
Most top free agents will be signed by July 10th given all the time to negotiate. If the incumbent team matches, the Sixers will be left fighting for free agent scraps.
There’s a few ways to increase the odds of not wasting those 10 days on an ill-fated offer sheet, mostly by making the contract as player-favorable as possible. What the Dallas Mavericks did to snag Chandler Parsons from the Houston Rockets is the best example of this. Chandler’s contract was guaranteed for the maximum salary for a player with 0-5 years for two seasons with a 3rd-year player option and a 15% trade kicker (a one-time bonus paid as a percentage of player salary) incurred by the incumbent team in the case of a trade. Parsons played two years in Dallas before opting out. Parsons outplayed his contract, but I wouldn’t necessarily count on that happening going forward for other free agents.
For KCP and Porter, this could be a potential option if the Sixers were desperate to acquire them. However, it would result in a difficult contract to move during the team's growth stage, as other players will come up for contract extensions and command large salaries. Joel Embiid is extension-eligible for this year. So is Nik Stauskas, but no one really cares about that potential negotiation. Robert Covington’s upcoming contract negotiation has been well-chronicled, and the Sixers should absolutely save cap space to give him a maximum salary this year.
Additionally, they would be signed to a position where the Sixers are suddenly flush with options. Expect Markelle Fultz to spend some time at the position alongside T.J. McConnell. Add Covington, Stauskas, Gerald Henderson if he sticks around (my guess is no, but he hasn’t been waived yet), Timothe Luwawu, Justin Anderson, Jerryd Bayless (who I always forget about), and Furkan Korkmaz now after today’s news, and you’ve got a real log jam. KCP and Porter would be updates over all non-Fultz and Covington options, but at the max contract each would surely command to even have their teams think twice about retaining them, is it even worth it?
Probably not. Restricted free agency is by-and-large a loser’s game for teams looking to obtain players. It causes teams to miss out on other opportunities, and time during early July moves quickly. The Sixers should win more games next year, and adding good young players would help, but internal development of key future contributors should be a primary goal of the team. That means more playing time than what might be warranted for TLC, Anderson, and Furkan version 2, and using the cap space to fill unfilled positions.