On Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers traded Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson to the Utah Jazz for Patrick Beverley. In doing so, they thwarted Sixers team president Daryl Morey from acquiring yet another former Houston Rocket who once played alongside James Harden. (We’ll just have to settle for P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. instead.)
The Sixers’ acquisition of De’Anthony Melton on draft night would have made Beverley somewhat redundant, which perhaps explains why they didn’t try to beat out the Lakers’ middling offer. Now that Kevin Durant has rescinded his trade request from the Brooklyn Nets—at least for the time being—business may be about to open back up league-wide, which could open other options.
That’s good news for the Sixers, who still have a roster logjam that they need to address between now and opening night.
At the moment, the Sixers have 16 players under contract—not counting Exhibit 10 signings or two-way players—which is one over the regular-season limit. Barring a trade, they’ll have to waive at least one player by opening night. Unless they’re planning to waive Isaiah Joe (fully non-guaranteed until opening night) or Trevelin Queen ($300,000 guaranteed), a trade may be their best option.
However, the Sixers have to be mindful of the $156.983 million luxury-tax apron, which is the threshold they cannot exceed at any point between now and June 30. That limits their flexibility on the trade market, as they currently have only $3.2 million in breathing room under the apron. (They’d gain at least $1.5 million more by waiving Joe or Queen.)
The Sixers also don’t have a ton of big contracts to offer for salary-matching purposes. They presumably didn’t acquire Tucker, Melton or House this offseason to flip them before the season even starts, which leaves Furkan Korkmaz ($5 million), Matisse Thybulle ($4.4 million) and Georges Niang ($3.5 million) as their biggest salary-matching chips.
As a taxpaying team, the Sixers can take back 125 percent of the salary they send out in any trade, plus $100,000. But because they can’t exceed the apron at any point this season, they can’t realistically cobble together enough salary to acquire someone earning $20-plus million without sending out Tobias Harris.
If they package Korkmaz and Thybulle in a trade, they could take back $11.8 million in salary. If they threw in another small contract such as Joe ($1.8 million), Shake Milton ($2.0 million) or Jaden Springer ($2.1 million), they could take back anywhere between $14.1 million and $14.5 million, although that would push them dangerously close to the apron. They wouldn’t be able to fill out their 15th roster spot with a minimum contract ($1.8 million) until it began prorating downward during the regular season.
Thybulle is one of the Sixers’ few remaining young players with any real trade value, which makes this a difficult needle to thread. They’d have to get back someone who increased their championship upside despite earning no more than $15 million this season at most.
While a number of players could fit that hypothetical mold, some of them are on teams that enter the season with either playoff or championship aspirations. It’s difficult to imagine the Phoenix Suns giving up Jae Crowder or the Dallas Mavericks offering Reggie Bullock for the Thybulle-Korkmaz combination unless they’re especially bullish on either player. The same goes for the Los Angeles Clippers with Robert Covington, even though they have a glut of wings.
Instead, the Sixers should focus their attention on rebuilding teams that might be willing to sell off their veteran pieces.
The Orlando Magic have two such players in Terrence Ross and Gary Harris. Ross is entering the final year of his four-year, $54 million contract, while Harris signed a two-year, $26 million extension shortly before free agency began. Ross is earning only $11.5 million this season, so he could fit cleanly for Korkmaz and Thybulle alone, while the Sixers would need to include an additional contract for Harris ($13 million).
As the Jazz wait out the New York Knicks on a potential Donovan Mitchell blockbuster, their Beverley and Rudy Gobert trades signal that they’re otherwise open for a rebuild. Mike Conley ($22.7 million), Bojan Bogdanovic ($19.6 million) and Malik Beasley ($15.6 million) are out of the Sixers’ realistic price range, but Jordan Clarkson ($13.3 million) and Rudy Gay ($6.2 million) are not. If the Sixers signed Hassan Whiteside, he could reprise the chemistry that he established with Clarkson last season in Utah.
The Charlotte Hornets might be poised to take a step back this season, particularly given Miles Bridges’ ongoing legal issues. If they decide to retool their roster, Kelly Oubre Jr. ($12.6 million) might be of interest to the Sixers after he averaged 15.0 points per game off the bench last season while knocking down a career-high 2.5 triples per game. Then again, Oubre has never posted a league-average true shooting percentage in any of his seven NBA seasons, and the Sixers would have to include three contracts to match salaries for him.
The Detroit Pistons have a promising young foundation with Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, but they aren’t likely to be in playoff contention this season. While Alec Burks ($10.0 million) and Nerlens Noel ($9.3 million) could serve as veteran rotation members and locker room leaders for Detroit, neither one is on the same developmental timeline as Cunningham, Ivey, Duren, Saddiq Bey or Marvin Bagley III. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if they were willing to give either one up for the Korkmaz-Thybulle package.
The San Antonio Spurs are likewise headed into a rebuild after trading Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks this offseason, which means veterans such as Doug McDermott ($13.8 million) and Josh Richardson ($12.2 million) could be on their way out. Neither one projects as a difference-maker for the Sixers in the playoffs, which might make giving up three contracts for either one a non-starter.
Rockets guard Eric Gordon popped up in trade rumors earlier this summer, as Kelly Iko of The Athletic reported he was “close to being traded on draft night,” with the Sixers “presumed to be the landing spot, before talks ultimately fell apart.” The Sixers “re-engaged with Houston at the beginning of free agency” about Gordon, according to Iko, but nothing materialized then, either.
Gordon’s $19.6 million salary might prove too prohibitive for the Sixers to successfully navigate. They would have to send out at least $15.6 million in a Gordon trade for salary-matching purposes, which means they’d have to swing a five-for-one deal including Korkmaz, Thybulle, Niang and any two of their other small salaries. They’d also have to remain mindful of their proximity to the apron and ensure they didn’t take back $3.2 million more than they sent out.
Even if they successfully navigated all of those obstacles, the Sixers would then have only 12 players under contract and not enough space under the apron to fill out the rest of their roster. In other words, Gordon likely won’t be a Sixer this season unless Harris is headed out in that trade.
Now that Durant’s trade request isn’t putting the rest of the league on hold anymore, the Sixers could have another move or two up their sleeves before the regular season begins. But their best bet may be standing pat with Thybulle and Korkmaz for now, seeing whether either of them bounce back this season, and then reassessing their options closer to the trade deadline.