Paul Reed spent the first few months of the 2022-23 NBA season largely buried in head coach Doc Rivers’ rotation. He played only 422 minutes in 44 games prior to the All-Star break and racked up 13 DNPs over that stretch.
After the Feb. 9 trade deadline, Rivers vaulted Reed ahead of Montrezl Harrell as his primary backup center. In his 25 regular-season appearances after the All-Star break, Reed racked up 6.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in only 13.3 minutes per game while showcasing far more defensive versatility than Harrell ever did.
Reed has carried that momentum right over to the playoffs. He had 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting in Game 1 of the Sixers’ first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, including seven straight points in the fourth quarter to effectively put the game out of reach. When star center Joel Embiid missed Game 4 with a knee injury, Reed slid into the starting lineup and had 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting and a career-high 15 rebounds (including eight offensive boards).
Other teams appear to be taking notice.
“Some of the numbers that he’s putting up, it’s clear that he’s gonna get some attraction in free agency,” Shams Charania of The Athletic said Tuesday on FanDuel TV.
The question is whether any other teams view Reed as a starting-caliber center or a high-end backup. That might determine whether he remains a Sixer beyond this season.
Although Reed shot 43.6 percent from three-point range on nearly four attempts per game in the G League, the Sixers haven’t asked him to do much outside of the paint offensively. Only eight of his 138 made field goals between the regular season and the playoffs have been 10 feet or further from the basket, and he has attempted only 28 jump shots all year. Without an elite setup man, it’s fair to wonder how effective Reed would be offensively outside of putbacks and lobs.
With that said, Reed has sky-high defensive potential, particularly for a backup big man. He ranked in the 94th percentile or higher among all bigs this season in block percentage, offensive rebound percentage and steal percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass. Among the 367 players who played at least 500 minutes in the regular season this year, Reed’s 5.4 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes ranked sixth overall.
According to Charania, the Sixers have had extension conversations with Reed throughout the regular season. However, he said “it doesn’t look like they’re gonna reach an agreement on a new extension” before Reed becomes a restricted free agent this summer.
Since Reed will be a restricted free agent rather than unrestricted, the Sixers will have the opportunity to match any offer sheet that he signs with another team. (Under the new collective bargaining agreement, they’ll only have 24 hours to do so rather than 48 hours, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.) The Sixers also have Reed’s Bird rights, which means they can go over the salary cap to re-sign him.
That doesn’t mean Reed is a lock to return next season, though. His future in Philadelphia may be tied directly to what James Harden decides to do this offseason.
Reed’s post-All-Star breakout largely coincided with Tyrese Maxey returning to the starting lineup, which allowed Harden to anchor the bench as the primary playmaker. If Harden walks, the Sixers will have to weigh whether Maxey, De’Anthony Melton or whomever else they task as the lead second-unit ball-handler has similar playmaking ability. Otherwise, they might need to live with more of Reed’s off-the-dribble forays, which tend to have mixed results.
Meanwhile, if Harden returns to the Sixers on a max or near-max contract, they’ll be brushing up against the $162 million luxury-tax threshold with only eight players on their books. Re-signing Reed along with Jalen McDaniels, Shake Milton and/or Georges Niang could push them above the new second salary-cap apron, which will be set at $17.5 million above the tax line next year.
Full details about the new CBA have yet to emerge, although John Hollinger of The Athletic provided some details earlier this week. The NBA is “phasing in the new second apron over just a two-year period,” according to Hollinger, “and many of the changes will hit sooner.”
“The result, multiple league sources say, is a tax regime so draconian that even these free-spending clubs may choose not to swim in the deep end,” Hollinger wrote. “The likely end-game by mid-decade is what might be described as a ‘soft hard cap’—one that can be exceeded, perhaps, in some situations, but in reality will be so limiting for most teams, at most times, that they will rarely if ever go beyond it.”
Teams above the second apron will not have the taxpayer mid-level exception in free agency, according to Wojnarowski. They also can’t sign players on the buyout market “if that player’s pre-waiver salary was larger than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception,” according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Tim Bontemps and Kevin Pelton. Beginning in the 2024 offseason, teams above the second apron won’t be able to aggregate salaries in trades to acquire a player making more money, nor will they be allowed to take back more salary than they send out in a trade.
If the Sixers get knocked out in the second round yet again, they’ll have to weigh whether to go above the second apron to run the same roster back next year. If not, they’ll have to allow some combination of Harden, Reed, McDaniels, Niang and/or Milton to walk, particularly if Danuel House Jr. ($4.3 million) and/or Montrezl Harrell ($2.8 million) pick up their respective player options for the 2023-24 season.
We’ll have plenty of time this offseason to work through roster-building permutations. (And rest assured, we will!) But whether in Philly or elsewhere, Reed appears poised to get out the mud for good this summer, particularly if he keeps building upon his impressive start to the playoffs.