Yesterday, the Sixers made official the three-team trade for Mike Muscala (I enjoy referring to it as the Muscala trade in my mind, rather than the Carmelo trade) and the signing of Jonah Bolden, meaning the team has officially reached the salary cap. Pop the champagne (or the Korkmaz if you’re really feeling frisky).
Philadelphia went over the cap last season, of course, but it took massive one-year overpays of J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson, the mid-season acquisition of Trevor Booker and his $8.7 million salary, and Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova on minimum deals, to get there. This season is the first time in the better part of a decade when the Sixers have arrived at the cap during the offseason through fairly natural machinations. Arriving there this year is another clear signal that the team is moving toward the next stage of the Process (which never truly ends, right Joel?).
Naturally, the occasion made me wistful for some of the dog days of the Process, with people sweating how the Sixers would hit the salary floor, despite it being a completely arbitrary number that only determines whether extra money has to be divided amongst players on the roster. Nevertheless, a certain segment of the public would wring their hands about what the team was going to do about the situation, as though having to give the likes of Hollis Thompson and JaKarr Sampson an extra few thousand dollars constituted some sort of crisis.
Yet, watching the gymnastics the organization would perform to avoid the optics of being below the salary floor became its own perverse sort of entertainment. I want to meet the man who bounces a grandchild on his knee and tells the story of the Danny Granger Sixers era. JaVale McGee actually suited up for some games. So did Thomas Robinson. Gerald Wallace will always be a tough pull on future Sporcle quizzes. Philadelphia claimed Mo Williams off waivers and released him in the same day, trying to win some absurd battle with Denver for cap manipulation supremacy. The Nuggets would get the last laugh by re-claiming him after the Sixers signed Chasson Randle.
The list goes on. Sometimes the Sixers used their cap space for legitimate assets, sometimes they didn’t. But it was always like they were playing a different sort of game from the rest of the league, because they essentially were. If you’re playing a different game than everyone else, you’re automatically the best at it. It was one of the ways the Process-era Sixers were the best.
Now, with Joel Embiid and Robert Covington already on their second contracts, and possible extensions coming soon for Ben Simmons and Dario Saric, Philadelphia is likely to be around or above the salary cap for years to come. The organization has to start navigating the same waters as the league’s elite, learning to properly utilize things like the room exception (not slotting it for someone who reneges on a handshake deal, for instance).
It’s a important step for the franchise that the salary cap is now a concern, especially since they didn’t just arrive here by overpaying some middling veterans on long-term deals to hop back on the treadmill of mediocrity. Still, a small of part of me will miss the salary floor games of youth. Fly free, Sonny Weems.