Today, we’re going to talk about the Sixers’ salary cap situation for 2022. The situation is... not great, but could be worse. If you’re not hooked already, well, I get it. But these details are important for understanding the constraints that Daryl Morey, Elton Brand and the rest of the front office are working within, as they explore Ben Simmons trades and other moves aimed at making the Sixers a championship contender.
But first, we should answer a question: Why should we care? After all, Josh Harris and co. are billionaires. Most of us really don’t care if Harris, David S. Blitzer and the rest of the owners are a few tens — or hundreds — of millions lighter in their bank accounts.
Having a handle on the team’s cap is helpful to know because, if the Sixers pay one player $36 million a year, a purely hypothetical figure, they will have less money to fill other needs, such as a crunch-time perimeter scorer/initiator. This concern is not unique to an NBA team; all businesses must weigh the opportunity cost of one player or draft pick or trade package over another. The teams that, after they draft well, successfully weigh the opportunity cost of paying or trading for one player over another, are most successful.
This brings us to next year’s cap. In 2022, the NBA’s salary cap is expected to be $119 million, according to Spotrac and the Sixers will have the 19th-highest payroll, with $156.7 million committed to player contracts. So they’ll be about $37.7 million over the cap. For context, the Golden State Warriors have the highest payroll, committed to $206 million in player salaries, about $87 million over the cap. The least cash-strapped team is the Detroit Pistons, who will have a payroll of $99 million and about $19.8 million in space next year.
You may then be wondering: How are 29 out of 30 teams over the salary cap? Because teams may re-sign their own players, and to fill out the roster with minimum contracts. Teams over a certain threshold will be taxed, but the Sixers aren’t in that situation as of now, so it has little bearing on the moves they will make. I’m no expert on the NBA’s CBA, but you can learn more here.
Here is Spotrac’s summary of the Sixers’ 2022-2023 payroll:
The big three (contracts)
Tobias Harris holds the largest cap hit next year, with a $37.6 million salary, comprising just over 24 percent of the cap. This will be the fourth of a five-year, $180 million maximum deal he signed in the 2019 offseason. He’ll make $39.2 million in the 2023-2024 season. He also has a trade kicker — whatever is the lesser of 5 percent or $5 million, according to Spotrac.
The Sixers’ second-highest salary is being paid to someone who was once considered their second-best player, Ben Simmons. He’ll make about $35.4 million next year, the third of a five-year, $177 million deal signed in 2019, but took effect in the 2020 season. If (when) he’s traded, it’s likely to be for another player with a similar salary (or less ideally, two players whose combined salaries are close to his). I would point to Simmons’ $33 million cap hit this year as one of the key culprits behind their up-and-down year so far; few teams can afford to pay someone so much and not miss the player’s on-court performance.
The third-largest cap hit belongs to one Joel Hans Embiid, who will make $33.6 million next year, taking up 21.5 percent of the cap. That will be the fifth year of a five-year, $147.7 million contract that took effect before the 2018-2019 season. His new four-year, $195.9 million contact will take effect in 2023-2024 for his age-29 season.
Next up is Danny Green’s non-guaranteed $10 million contract in 2022. Should Green continue his strong play through the year (he’s shooting about 40 percent on almost five threes a game according to Basketball-Reference, and very good defense), it’s likely the Sixers will guarantee his contract and bring him back.
Perhaps the best bargain on the team, Seth Curry will make $8.5 million next year, the third of a four-year, $32 million contract. (Aside: It’s bonkers that the Dallas Mavericks signed him to this contract before the 2019 season, only to trade him a year later.) It’s extremely likely he remains on the team in 2022, for all sorts of reasons. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2023.
Reserves Furkan Korkmaz ($5 million), Matisse Thybulle ($4.4 million) and Georges Niang ($3.5 million) are also under contract in 2022. The Niang contract in particular (2 years/ $6.8 million) was a great signing by the Sixers.
Other young reserves, including Tyrese Maxey ($2.7 million), Jaden Springer ($2.1 million) and Shake Milton (club option at $2 million) are under contract. I expect they will exercise Milton’s club option. The Sixers also have club options on recent draft picks Isaiah Joe ($1.8 million), Paul Reed ($1.8 million) and Charles Bassey ($1.6 million). All three have shown flashes, so their contracts will likely be picked up unless something extreme happens between now and the end of the year.
What could change for next year?
There’s likely one move that may change the Sixers’ salary cap situation in 2022: The trade of Simmons. Even still, they wouldn’t be trading him for a lower-cost player. It’s more likely that he’s traded for one or two players whose combined salary is about the same.
While a Tobias trade is possible, it seems unlikely. He’s a good player, but his max contract makes him less valuable to other teams and it seems doubtful the Sixers would make a Tobias trade before the Ben situation is sorted out.
Joel will be here, and we’re lucky to have him.
What about the young guys?
Some of the reserves and prospects could be moved before the start of next season, but likely only in bigger moves, such as the already-mentioned Simmons trade. Furkan, Matisse, Jaden Springer, and Shake could be appealing to other teams, since they are good at something (Matisse, Furkan, and Shake), or have a projectable skill at the next level (Springer’s defense). Isaiah Joe, Paul Reed, and Charles Bassey likewise could all be included in a trade, and may hold appeal to younger, rebuilding teams who see each players’ respective upsides. At the same time, however, they’re young and talented and cheap — and the Sixers may hold onto them to fill out the bench in the event a larger trade occurs.
Is there a path for the Sixers to open a max salary spot in 2022?
With so much money (just over two-thirds of the cap) committed to three players next year, creating a max slot will be practically impossible, especially as they intend to contend. Crazier things have happened in the NBA, so we can’t rule it out, but it’s not something we should expect.
We’ll track the Sixers’ moves throughout the season and will update this post if anything changes their salary cap situation for 2022-2023 and beyond.