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How the Sixers could swing a Fred VanVleet sign-and-trade this offseason

If James Harden leaves the Sixers this summer, could they target Fred VanVleet as his replacement in a sign-and-trade?

Toronto Raptors v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

After hiring Nick Nurse as their new head coach, the Sixers might not be done adding former members of the Toronto Raptors this offseason. If James Harden leaves for the Houston Rockets in free agency, the Sixers could perhaps try to replace him by acquiring Fred VanVleet.

VanVleet himself recently seemed to hint at that possibility.

“I think he’ll have some success,” he said about Nurse on Stadium’s Inside the Association. “Hopefully not too much if I’m not there and I’m staying in Toronto.”

There are realistic pathways for the Sixers to acquire VanVleet this summer, but some are far more complicated than others. You can thank the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement for that.

The easiest way for VanVleet to wind up in Philadelphia would be if he picked up his $22.8 million player option for next season as part of a trade. The Sixers could offer him an extension right away as part of an extend-and-trade, but barring any changes in the new CBA, they’d be limited to tacking on only two more years with 5 percent annual raises. If they waited six months to sign him to an extension, they could offer him another four years with a starting salary up to 140 percent of his previous salary, or nearly $32 million, with 8 percent annual raises from there.

If VanVleet is unwilling to pick up his player option and insists on becoming a free agent, the Sixers would instead have to convince the Raptors to sign-and-trade him. Two major obstacles stand in the way of that, though.

Since VanVleet will presumably receive a starting salary above $19.6 million on his new contract, the Sixers could take back no more than 125 percent of the salary they send out in the deal, plus $100,000. Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris are the only two players on their roster earning more than $12 million next season, and the former isn’t going anywhere.

The Sixers could try talking the Raptors into taking Harris back in a VanVleet sign-and-trade—Masai Ujiri does seemingly have a fetish for power forwards, after all—but that might require the Raptors to send out more salary, depending on how much VanVleet receives in his new deal. Otherwise, their best bet might be convincing the Rockets to give them a massive trade exception for Harden, which they’d then use on VanVleet. However, the Sixers would likely have to incentivize the Rockets to do so—i.e., give them a future second-round pick and/or sweet, sweet cash—since Houston has enough cap space to sign Harden outright this offseason.

Even if they square away the salary-matching component, the Sixers would have to make peace with hard-capping themselves for the second straight season if they acquired VanVleet in a sign-and-trade. Under both the current CBA and the new CBA, which is set to take effect July 1, teams above the first apron cannot receive players via a sign-and-trade. In other words: If the Sixers were to sign-and-trade for VanVleet, their payroll could not exceed wherever the first apron lands (likely around $169 million) until the end of the next league year on June 30, 2024.

In the wake of Danuel House Jr. picking up his $4.3 million player option, the Sixers already have a guaranteed $121.4 million in salary on their books for next season against a projected $134 million salary cap and $162 million luxury-tax line. If the Sixers get a trade exception for Harden and use that to acquire VanVleet rather than sending out Harris, they would have less than $48 million to divvy up between FVV, their other free agents (Paul Reed, Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels and Shake Milton) and the rest of their roster. Montrezl Harrell could further cut into that by picking up his $2.8 million player option for the 2023-24 season.

Hypothetically, let’s say VanVleet was willing to agree to a four-year, $120 million contract with the Sixers. His starting salary could be as low as $27.9 million, with 5 percent annual raises from there. Add that to the $121.4 million in guaranteed salary already on their books, and the Sixers would already be at roughly $149.3 million in salary (not counting Harrell). That would leave them with about $20.2 million to spend on six players before they hit the first apron.

That might sound like a lot, but it will dry up quickly.

A minimum salary for any player with two or more years of NBA experience is projected to cost nearly $2 million next season. That means the Sixers would have only about $8 million in additional money to spend before hitting the first apron if they field a full roster of 15 players. That might be enough to keep one or two of Reed, Niang, McDaniels and Milton, but they wouldn’t be able to use any of their $12.2 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception in that scenario. Would running back effectively the same roster with VanVleet and Nurse in place of Harden and Doc Rivers lead to drastically different results next season?

The Sixers would have far more financial flexibility if they salary-dumped Harris onto a team with enough cap space to absorb him outright, but the cost of doing so—likely an unprotected future first-round pick—might not justify the value. The better bet might be swinging a deal in which they take back less salary for next year, even if it means absorbing longer-term contracts that could cut into their future cap space.

Even if the Sixers kept Harris on their roster for next year, a sign-and-trade for VanVleet this offseason is technically feasible. It will just be interconnected with the rest of their offseason decisions, including which of their non-Harden free agents they plan to re-sign. If FVV’s price point comes in higher than expected, that could limit their ability to retain Reed, Niang and/or McDaniels without exceeding the first apron. If they re-sign Reed, Niang or McDaniels at a discount, that would give them more wiggle room for VanVleet or the non-taxpayer MLE.

Never say never, especially with Daryl Morey at the helm. If anyone can finagle his way into some creative CBA machinations, it’s him. But if he can’t convince the Raptors to take Harris back in a VanVleet sign-and-trade or can’t get a trade exception from Houston for Harden, it could be difficult to bring FVV to Philly this offseason.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM.

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