It’s a great day to be a Sixers fan! On February 10th, the Sixers traded for James Harden, sending Wendy’s burn victim Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond to the Brooklyn Nets. Let’s look at how this affects the team’s payroll situation going forward.
It was originally reported that Harden exercised his $47.3 Million option for next season, but this turned out to be incorrect. Harden may yet exercise his option over the summer, or may sign an extension with the Sixers. There’s a certainly a possibility that this blows up in teh Sixers’ faces and Harden leaves, but that’s too dark of a thought to entertain today. Also, though things can change between now and the summer, Daryl Morey would not have moved forward with this if he didn’t expect Harden to remain with the Sixers long-term.
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 2022-2023, the NBA’s salary cap is expected to be $121 million, according to Spotrac and the Sixers will have the seventh-highest payroll, with $158.7 million committed to player contracts. So they’ll be about $46.3 million over the cap. For context, the Golden State Warriors have the highest payroll, committed to $184 million in player salaries, about $87 million over the cap. The least cash-strapped team is the Oklahoma City Thunder, who will have a payroll of $89 million and about $23 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)
As you may have heard, James Harden is a Sixer, and has a $47.3 Million player option. That would be the last of a four-year, $171 Million contract he signed before the 2019-2020 season. It’s unknown now if he plans to exercise the option in the summer, or sign an extension. After giving up so much to bring him to Philadelphia, the Sixers certainly intend to keep him around for the next several years.
According to The Sporting News’ Gilbert McGregor, a Harden extension could play out in one of two ways. 1) To get the most possible money, he could opt in to his player option in the summer for $47.3, then sign a subsequent four-year extension to cover the 2023/2024- 2026/2027 season, worth about $227 Million. This would bring the five-year total to almost $275 Million. Another option, which is simpler but makes little sense since he’d leave about $5 Million on the table, is that he could re-sign a five year, $270 Million extension with the Sixers.
There are interesting and potentially concerning implications to paying Harden $60 Million in his age-37 season, but this is all speculation until we learn whether he exercises the option, or signs an outright extension, and we see what the details of the extension are. It’s likely that the last year or two of whatever Harden extension looks bad, but it’s the cost of doing business for an NBA team with championship aspirations. Morey’s FO understands this is the cost of doing business for a team with championship aspirations.
If Harden leaves in free agency over the summer (that would be bad), he’d only be able to sign a four-year, $200 Million contract. There are currently no teams with enough cap space to sign him without a sign-and-trade, so this option sounds extremely unlikely.
Tobias Harris holds the second-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 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. Though Green has mostly played well for the Sixers this year, he’s run into some injury issues, and has now been replaced in the starting lineup by Matisse Thybulle. With the acquisition of Harden, we’ll see if the Sixers are able to retain him next year.
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 the team decides to move one or more of them for a veteran in the summer.
What could change for next year?
With the passing of the 2021-2022 trade deadline on February 11th, and it yet to be seen how this new-look Sixers fare in the playoffs, it’s hard to say. Should the Sixers fall short of winning the title this year, it’s fair to assume that Daryl Morey and co. will shake things up around the margins of the roster.
Thankfully, 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 a lot can happen between now and July. Here’s what we “know” based on the Harden trade: The Sixers LOVE Maxey and they love Matisse. Maxey was reportedly off-limits in any trade, while the Sixers preferred to keep Matisse over two future first-round picks which were sent to Brooklyn. Both figure to be long-term starters in this current Sixers configuration.
Isaiah Joe has seen a bit of run early this year, but not enough to suggest the Sixers are committed to him long-term. Charles Bassey and Paul Reed, two young bigs, have shown promise, but have seen limited minutes this season. With the departure of Drummond, one or both may have a chance to shine if the Sixers aren’t able to find a suitable backup center on the buyout market.
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.