The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement Saturday morning, which will go into effect in the 2023-24 season. While the full text has yet to come out, key details are already starting to emerge.
Whether the new CBA is a net positive or a net negative for the Sixers depends almost entirely on whether they re-sign James Harden this summer.
Among the most notable changes is the implementation of a second salary-cap apron set $17.5 million above the luxury tax, per multiple reports. Teams that exceed that line will not be allowed to spend the taxpayer mid-level exception, send cash in trades, trade first-round picks that are seven years away, sign players on the buyout market, and take more money back than they send out in trades, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. (One silver lining to that from a Sixers perspective? No more washed buyout bigs!)
The Sixers already have $117.1 million on their books for next season, and the salary cap is currently projected to land at $134 million, while the luxury-tax threshold is projected to be $162 million. If the Sixers re-signed Harden at his $46.9 million maximum salary, they’d already be $2 million over the tax line with only eight players under contract. Re-signing any combination of Paul Reed, Jalen McDaniels, Shake Milton and Georges Niang would likely push them above the second apron, which would make them subject to the above restrictions once the new apron is place.
Luckily for the Sixers, that may not happen next season. In Wojnarowski’s original writethrough about the new CBA, he wrote that “those changes will be eased into the salary cap over a period of years.” It wouldn’t be a surprise if they go into effect in 2025-26 to coincide with the start of the league’s new national TV deals, although that’s just an educated guess.
Even if the second apron doesn’t take effect next season, the Sixers will need to begin planning for future seasons as well. Two other changes in the new CBA might help them in that regard, particularly in extension negotiations with Tyrese Maxey and De’Anthony Melton this offseason.
Under the current CBA, teams are limited to offering 120 percent of a player’s previous salary or 120 percent of the estimated average salary (whichever is greater) as the starting salary of an extension. In the new CBA, the two sides “agreed to increase the upper limits on extensions from a 120% increase on a current deal to 140%,” according to Wojnarowski.
Based on that wording, it’s not entirely clear whether the 140 percent is limited to a player’s previous salary or if it also includes the estimated average salary. The latter would behoove the Sixers if they discuss an extension with Melton this offseason.
Since Melton is earning only $8 million next season, the Sixers would be limited to offering a four-year, $43 million extension based off his salary under the old rules and a four-year, $50.2 million extension under the new rules. If they based it on the estimated average salary under the old rules, they could have offered a four-year deal worth more than $60 million.
If the Sixers are allowed to offer 140 percent of the estimated average salary—I’m using $11.8 million as a rough estimate for the 2024-25 season—they could give Melton an extension beginning at $16.5 million with 8 percent annual raises. That would top out at four years and $74 million, which seems like fair value for a do-it-all supersub/spot starter.
The Sixers also gained more flexibility regarding Maxey’s upcoming extension. The current CBA limited non-max rookie extensions to only four years, while the new CBA allows teams to offer a five-year non-max extension to players coming off their rookie-scale deals, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
If the Sixers weren’t comfortable with giving Maxey a full max extension this summer but didn’t want to cost themselves a year of team control, they would have been conflicted. Now, they’ll be able to stay below a max extension offer if so desired while locking up Maxey for all five years.
If Harden does head back to Houston this summer, the new CBA might give the Sixers more flexibility to retool than they would have had under the old CBA. According to Wojnarowski, “there will be new spending and trade opportunities for teams at the middle and lower spectrum of payrolls, including larger trade exceptions and new and expanded exceptions to the salary cap.” While the full details have yet to emerge in that regard, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported there would be a 7.5 percent increase to the mid-level exception (presumably the non-taxpayer variety) and a 30 percent increase (!) to the room mid-level exception.
The gap between the non-taxpayer MLE ($10.5 million) and taxpayer MLE ($6.5 million) is only around $4 million this season, and the room MLE ($5.4 million) is nearly $1.1 million less than the taxpayer MLE. Under the new CBA, the room MLE is projected to be slightly higher than the taxpayer MLE, while the gap between the non-taxpayer MLE and taxpayer MLE will grow only further apart.
Based on what’s been reported thus far, it seems as though the new CBA took direct aim at the highest-spending teams to limit their financial flexibility and increase parity leaguewide. If the Sixers re-sign Harden, they’re likely going to fall into the higher-spending group, although a phased-in implementation of the second apron could give them time to get their books in order.
But if Harden walks this summer, the new CBA might help the Sixers get back on their feet more quickly than they otherwise could have under the current system.