When James Harden picked up his $35.6 million player option and requested a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers in late June, the Sixers were working with a relatively blank palette. After losing Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels and Shake Milton in the opening hours of free agency, they had only nine players under contract (including Harden), which made it easy to come up with a viable 3-for-1 or 4-for-1 framework.
With two weeks to go until the start of the regular season, that’s no longer the case. The Sixers signed a bevy of free agents to one-year, minimum-salary deals throughout the offseason, including Patrick Beverley, Mo Bamba and Kelly Oubre Jr.
After signing Oubre, the Sixers are now one player over the 15-man regular-season roster limit (not counting their three two-way contracts). That means they’re already going to have to cut or trade one player within the next two weeks without taking a contract back.
That roster crunch could also complicate their ongoing trade talks with the Clippers.
Montrezl Harrell, Filip Petrusev and Danny Green are the Sixers’ three most likely cut candidates for varying reasons. Harrell figures to miss the entire 2023-24 season after tearing his ACL and meniscus during the offseason, although his contract is fully guaranteed, so there’s no financial benefit to waiving him. Only $560,000 of Petrusev’s $1.2 million salary is guaranteed until Jan. 10, so the Sixers could give themselves an additional $560,000 of wiggle room under the second apron by cutting him. Green’s $2.0 million contract is fully nonguaranteed until opening night, although his fit with Joel Embiid and experience playing under new head coach Nick Nurse are both reasons to keep him around.
Since all three signed or re-signed with the Sixers this summer, none of them are eligible to be traded until Dec. 15. The Sixers could waive all three if they need to carve out additional roster spots to facilitate a Harden trade, but they couldn’t include them in a Harden deal within the next two months. That could be an issue for the Clippers, who lack the type of hefty contracts to pull off a one-for-one swap.
Outside of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, both of whom are earning $45.6 million this year and seem to be off the table for Harden, the Clippers’ next-highest-paid player is Norman Powell at $18.0 million. However, the Sixers’ interest in Powell might be relatively tepid due to their desire to preserve salary-cap space for the 2024 offseason. He’s owed $19.2 million in 2024-25 and $20.5 million in 2025-26, so adding Powell would prevent them from carving out a max-contract spot next summer (barring other moves).
The Clippers have plenty of expiring contracts to offer between Marcus Morris ($17.1 million), Nicolas Batum ($11.7 million) and Robert Covington ($11.7 million), none of whom would cut into the Sixers’ 2024 cap-space plan. Terance Mann, who’s earning $10.6 million this year and $11.4 million in 2024-25, appears to be one of the sticking points in trade talks as well.
Since the Clippers are over the $182.6 million second apron, they can take back no more than 110 percent of the salary that they send out in any deal. If Harden was the only player going back to them, they’d have to send out at least $32.4 million in salary. But thanks to Morris, Batum and Covington, the Clippers can cobble together plenty of frameworks that would be legal from a salary-matching perspective.
Roster spots will be the bigger issue for the two sides to overcome. Unless the Sixers were willing to take back both Powell and Morris, the Clippers will have to send out at least three contracts in a Harden trade. The Sixers would need to have open roster spots to take back all of those players—even if they planned to immediately waive them—for the trade to become official.
If the Sixers don’t want to waive all three of Harrell, Petrusev and Green, they’ll have to send another contract back to the Clippers along with Harden. Luckily, the two sides should have some financial wiggle room to work with so long as Morris is one of the players headed to Philly.
A package of Morris, Mann and Covington or Batum would add up to roughly $39.4 million, which means the Clippers could take back around $43.3 million of salary. That isn’t quite enough for both Harden and P.J. Tucker ($11.0 million), but it’s more than enough for Furkan Korkmaz ($5.4 million), Danuel House Jr. ($4.3 million) or Jaden Springer ($2.2 million) to be included. Since Korkmaz requested a trade from the Sixers in February, he seems like the obvious choice.
If the Clippers refused to include Mann, a package of Morris, Covington and Batum would add up to $40.5 million, which means they could take back nearly $44.6 million in salary. Again, that isn’t quite enough for both Harden and Tucker, but they could take back Harden, Springer and one of Korkmaz or House in that scenario.
To be clear: Draft compensation and whether the Clippers will give up Mann appear to be the main obstacles holding up a Harden trade. The Sixers’ roster-spot crunch is nowhere nearly as formidable to overcome. However, it is another factor that the two sides will have to consider as they negotiate trade frameworks.
On the bright side, the Sixers might be able to resolve two trade requests in one deal.