Recently our Bryan Toporek reminded us why it might be an especially quiet slop season in Sixersville this winter when he penned why aren’t there more Sixers trade rumors? Blame money.
You’re clearly not expecting Philadelphia to trade Joel Embiid, James Harden or Tyrese Maxey. Instinctively, you probably already sensed they’d be loathe to move off De’Anthony Melton. Mr. Do Something has been mostly stellar, playing wayyy above the $8M he earns both this and next season. Tobias Harris’ name is the one that continues to pop up here or there in rumors, especially when he plays well, but the odds still seem unlikely that we see something there before the Feb. 9 deadline.
But on a recent “Please Don’t Aggregate This” pod, (always fun to then aggregate) hosted by Jake Fischer, talking with guest Derek Bodner, founder of The Daily Six Newsletter, we did get a morsel of intel regarding the type of deal the team might be eyeing this deadline.
Wait, what about James Harden to Houston rumors? What did they think about that?
“First of all, I think Daryl Morey wants James Harden here long term....” Bodner said, hinting at the team’s ability to top any rival cash offer for The Beard’s services.
Fischer didn’t sound like he thinks Morey and Elton Brand are terribly worried about Harden bolting for Texas either:
“I don’t think that this is something that is truly prevalent on Sixers decision makers’ minds right now....[Harden’s] interest, or his apparent interest, whatever you wanna call it, is nothing new. But it coming up ahead of this summer obviously is [new].... I’m not sitting here thinking that’s going to be the case before this trade deadline, or even after, or even next summer.”
Fischer adds that while you just never know what’s going to happen and these upcoming playoffs could factor in heavily, he ultimately thinks the most likely scenario is that “Harden remains in Philadelphia” beyond this season and that “the Rockets were merely a potential boogeyman that were looming over those discussions....”
That’s a relief to hear because the team’s options if Harden were to bolt totes stink.
On a related note, I wrote at @Liberty_Ballers about the Sixers' options if Harden does walk this summer.— Bryan Toporek (@btoporek) December 27, 2022
It's not as simple as "they just free up $36M in cap space, who cares?"https://t.co/3ij7Sy0jAv
Fischer talks about a world in 2023 and beyond where Sixers ownership is shelling salaries for Embiid (and his potentially seismic new TV deal supermax) a possible “Jordan Poole” or more style extension for Tyrese Maxey, P.J. Tucker’s inevitable 2024 opt-in, and potentially a whopping 2023 Harden extension on top.
And for all those reasons, the former Liberty Baller who authored “Built to Lose: How the NBA’s Tanking Era Changed the League Forever” wouldn’t be shocked if Philadelphia looks to “reset” their luxury tax penalty fees by ducking the tax ahead of this deadline with a minor trade.
Here’s what he added to that end, after transitioning from less likely Tobias Harris and James Harden shockers:
“On a more day-to-day level of things we actually think will happen… I think they’ll be looking more on the margins of things….Furkan Korkmaz, hardly playing right now for this team, or inconsistent in his usage off the bench, on the hook for another $5.3M next year, definitely been a name I’ve heard rival teams speculate as someone to be looked to move. Especially, I believe …they are a little bit over the [luxury] tax… if there is a way to trim-
Bodner: “yeah, they’re like a million-and-a-half [over the tax] I think.”
Fischer: “If there is a way to trim it, get a $4 million player back or so, for Furkan, that was something that a cap-leaning person suggested to me.”
Interesting. Korkmaz, once drafted by Bryan Colangelo back in 2016, using a first-round pick bequeathed to him by Sam Hinkie, is the longest-tenured Sixer other than Joel but never carved out a consistent role for himself. He always seems to be mired in what Brett Brown would call a “quiet tournament.” Now, averaging 4.2 points, and just 32.4 percent from distance, he’s sort of like this guy known as a lights out shooter who, well...isn’t lights out.
Per Bryan Toporek, the precise number the team is over the tax now is $1,172,998, and since they’re hard-capped after using their full MLE on Tuck, they don’t have a ton of wiggle room.
So we can comb through player salaries using HoopsHype’s useful salary tracker:
And you can go down the list from there sniffing around for players who might contribute more than Korkmaz has lately, helping round out the bench, while simultaneously helping Josh Harris save a few bucks as well.
Plenty of these guys who make just over $1M less than the Turkish born wing are young and talented, so we can dismiss unobtainable names like Jordan Poole, Cole Anthony or Moses Moody. But when you see names like Mike Muscala, you begin to wonder if there might be some type of win-win deal to be struck.
Venture further down the list and you might see names like useful Clippers’ wing Amir Coffey or 6-7 Pistons’ wing Saddiq Bey, both of whom might be exciting gets for Morey.
Here I am thinking like "Hey, maybe Saddiq Bey would be a nice wing option off the bench that wouldn't be cost prohibitive" while others are photoshopping LeBron with Jo and Harden.— Paul Hudrick (@PaulHudrick) December 29, 2022
Of course not every fan is worried about saving Josh Harris money, when teams like the Warriors and Clippers are already spending over $40M more than the Sixers on talent.
But since the team was in the tax the last couple of seasons, and likely seem headed there for another few more, it appears they’re quite mindful of dodging those punishing repeater fees. You may look at Harris pursuing buying the Mets or Broncos, or settling with Ben Simmons for undisclosed amounts of salary Ben may or may not have justifiably earned on a basketball court and feel frustrated. You may have gagged when you heard Fischer say “I don’t think that’s a $24M pill [ownership] are so willing to swallow,” when the team was deciding to keep Doc Rivers last summer, his guaranteed salary perhaps being a key factor. You may look at billionaires like Steve Ballmer, (many times over the baller Harris is) and be jealous. I get all those sentiments.
But it also doesn’t seem like the worst compromise if they indeed nabbed a player better than Korkmaz, while saving potentially tens of millions down the road.
If they go far enough down that list to players who make as little as $3,827,001 they can skirt the tax, but they’d be forced to go to war with an empty roster spot for the year (the 15th).
But what if they want to keep a spot open to sign a buyout guy, if by some miracle a player like Eric Gordon were bought out? He’d want to join his Philadelphia Rockets teammates surely, right? The full vet min is ~$1.8M prior to the season, and since they wouldn’t be signing a potential buyout player until February (presumably), it would only cost them around $600-700K to pursue that option.
You’d have to go down the list far enough to guys like former Sixer Andre Drummond (emoji eyes) earning $3.2M to accomplish all goals. Swap Korkmaz for Drummond and you could skirt the tax, while still leaving $627K for the 15th roster spot.
Maybe Drummond would represent the pick-and-roll lob threat Harden has been looking for? Big Penguin wasn’t useful against the Boston Celtics in Round 1 last season. But he might be against a team like the Bucks. He just put up seven points, 12 boards, two blocks and two steals in just 16 minutes of action vs. Mike Budenholzer’s boys last week. He’s better than Montrezl Harrell. And he might be better than Paul Reed, although I’m not super confident.
In fact, on a preseason podcast appearance on The Ricky, Morey himself insinuated that Drummond was the best backup big Embiid has had in recent memory, ahead of Reed.
Not that I’m in love with Drummond, but just spitballing, hoping to give you ideas. Bey is obviously substantially better and cheaper too. But how are they sweetening this deal? In terms of assets, the Sixers are pretty thin. For deals on the margins, (meaning not looking to bust out a swap, or future first) they have the Hornets’ second-round pick. Remember, they were docked a couple late picks for tampering last offseason with their free agent class.
Officially they have the 2023 second-round draft pick from Atlanta, Charlotte or Brooklyn (most favorable), per RealGm. As of now, 538 predicts that will be the Hornets’ 35th overall pick. Not amazing but also not terrible, that’s where Draymond Green once went in 2012. Any tanking team worth their salt might be excited to grab it and root against LaMelo and co., right?
The team parted ways with two potentially useful players in Isaiah Joe and Charles Bassey before the season kicked off purportedly so they could maintain optionality for future trades (and maybe also to help avoid the tax). As noted, since they’re hard-capped after signing Tucker, there’s not a ton of ways they can get creative. So they’ll try to improve around the margins. But hey, work around the margins used to be Morey’s forte back in Houston.
Bodner throws Matisse Thybulle’s name out there as the next most likely to be dangled after Korkmaz. Who knows, maybe Morey would look to trade a few players for an upgrade all while helping Harris reset the tax penalty.
Play around with it. If they traded both Korkmaz and Thybulle, they’d be looking to take back around $7,579,526M (Cedi Osman fits the bill) to duck tax and try for buyouts. Kick in Montrezl Harrell or Jaden Springer and you can look at guys as pricey as.... you get the idea.
Something to keep an eye on.