The Sixers miss T.J. McConnell right now. No no no…. Not because he would be an integral member of their rotation. Not because he was a great player, and not because lots of other teams would have been calling Philadelphia daily to make major offers for him. He probably (ideally) would not have been an integral member of the current rotation unless he significantly improved his 3 point shot this summer. The backup point guard minutes he used to get began to go to Jimmy Butler down the stretch run last year and early this season they’ve gone to Josh Richardson. The Sixers are already struggling to shoot from deep and space the floor and T.J. is not the answer for that as we know.
Sixers' lack of playmaking from guard/wing positions is stunning—no one creates anything except Simmons— Ben Detrick (@bdetrick) October 29, 2019
Ben has 52 potential assists in 108 minutes. Richardson, Thybulle, Ennis, Korkmaz, Milton and Neto have 34 in 271 combined minutes
The Sixers are shooting 29.8 percent from three-point range, fourth worst in the NBA. They're the only undefeated team in the Eastern Conference.— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) October 29, 2019
No, they should have have kept T.J. because he would have made some really good trade bait if bundled with additional assets, mainly of the draft variety. It’s all water under the bridge now, but I’ve spotted enough fans still discussing this idea that I decided to look into it....
Once upon a time, like Robert Covington and Jerami Grant, McConnell signed a “Hinkie Special.” The type of contract that was creative and team friendly enough that agents banded together to render them mostly extinct. The former Arizona Wildcat only earned $4.471m over four years and the team could have moved on from it without repercussion along the way. Here was what The Athletic’s Danny Leroux had to say back in March 2018:
Amazingly, the 76ers are still reaping rewards from Hinkie Specials as T.J. McConnell and Richaun Holmes are on them through the 2018-19 season assuming the front office decides to pick up the final season options instead of making one or both restricted free agents. A few months ago, Robert Covington’s Hinkie Special opened the door for his renegotiation-and-extension in November. Those exceedingly team-friendly contracts are going extinct.
What is the relevance of his contract history? Well he’s been in the league for awhile and has not made a ton of money relative to even minimum-salaried players. And the Sixers had full Bird rights so they could have given him a one-year balloon payment; the type that would have been roughly double what he’s making this season in Indiana, and much more than his career-to-date earnings from the Sixers as well. McConnell signed a two year deal with Indiana this off season for $7m in total. He’ll make $3.5m this season and $1m of his second year is guaranteed, for a total of $4.5m.
It would have been a bit of an advanced move (signing a player with the express purpose of trading him at some point down the line) and it would have required McConnell being on board. So that part is the big question mark. We turned to cap-expert Jeff Siegel, Founder of EarlyBirdRights.com who answered some questions for us:
It would would have required T.J. being on board. Because the team had his full Bird Rights, they would have had to sign him to a deal like the one Darius Miller got. That’s $7m in the first season and then a non-guaranteed $7m in the second. It cannot be a straight one-year deal (or one with an option) because then McConnell would receive a no-trade clause.
It’s unclear if McConnell would have been onboard had that been presented to him. It would have been substantially more than the amount he agreed to with Indiana, and he could have avoided uprooting for potentially the entire season if they did not trade him.
Hypothetically, If they signed McConnell instead of Raul Neto or Trey Burke then they could trade McConnell for someone making up to $5.68M and stayed out of the luxury tax. If they signed McConnell instead of Neto and never signed Burke, then entered the season with just 14 players on the payroll, then they could pursue players making up to $7.3 million in a swap for McConnell and still avoid the luxury tax. If that were important to them then the best move would be to sign McConnell to that full $7.3 million number and have the full flexibility to keep him and stay out of the tax or trade him for someone making up to that number if they want, or trade him and go into the tax if they have the opportunity to get someone who can really make a difference for them in the playoffs. They could also do that and then move on from a player like Mike Scott or someone else if they really need to get out of the tax.”
Some fans and a few of our writers here were really hoping for that type of arrangement:
Not sure if the blame is more on TJ or the Sixers or if he’s an even officially a Pacer yet but feels like he should be coming back to Philly on a 1/8M deal. He’s not getting any burn in Indy should’ve just taken a big one-year payday from Philly and Sixers should’ve offered. https://t.co/ANKW72Lz1a— Marty Teller (@mwteller) July 19, 2019
So based on Siegel’s analysis, it seems that the opportunity cost of keeping T.J. on a balloon deal would have been a player like Trey Burke or Raul Neto. And depending on how pricey a target player they wanted in any potential trade, (or how badly they may have wanted to avoid the luxury tax) it might have cost them both Neto and Burke.
Fans know that the Sixers’ owners have suggested on numerous occasions that they would pay the luxury tax, and once they inked Tobias Harris, Al Horford and extended Ben Simmons, it worked out so that they avoided being tax-payers for the 2019-2020 season but assuredly will be in 2020-2021. But hypothetically, if the Sixers coaching staff and front office believed that there was a move that could put them over the top, what could have been possible had they kept McConnell in that $7.3M range?
If the team’s ownership said midseason “go for it, we’ll pay whatever bill you create”, then the front office could have traded T.J. straight up for up to $9.2M in salary. Adding [Mike] Scott, you can get to $15.2M in returning salary. Adding [Zhaire] Smith to that as well and you can bring back about $19.0M in salary in a trade.”
This is not to say that the Sixers should be looking to shop Scott or Smith. I’m sure “The Hive” and others would be pretty upset if they did. But if the right player or two eventually became available (and again McConnell had accepted a deal in that range to stay) in this hypothetical, it would have given the Sixers a wide swath of optionality in terms of salary matching tools.
It’s pretty difficult to predict now who might be sellers as the trade deadline approaches this coming winter. If McConnell had been open to this, it essentially means the Sixers placed more emphasis on a couple of minimum salaried players who have yet to crack their rotation than maximizing their options in the trade market. And that could still work out for them if both Neto and Burke become key role players eventually.
There have already been rumors of players like Sacramento’s Bogdan Bogdanovic being a potential trade candidate. Acquiring him would certainly have put Philadelphia over the tax threshold in this example, assuming they even had the additional assets (besides McConnell’s salary) to swing a deal. Andre Iguodala is a player who figures to have a high impact on the upcoming playoff race if he ever relocates from Memphis either via trade or buyout market. The Los Angeles teams have been named as the two favorites for the former Sixer and Finals MVP’s services.
The Sixers are undefeated in the East despite some offensive struggles. But it’s still fun to think about what trades they may have been able to swing had they gone this route with an old familiar face of The Process.