The NBA’s new collective bargaining takes effect on July 1. Among other things, it features severe penalties for teams that are more than $17.5 million above the luxury-tax threshold (a newly created “second apron”) that will phase in over the next two offseasons.
Those penalties might convince some teams to try to dump long-term salary over the next month, which could make large expiring contracts more valuable on the trade market. The Sixers should therefore actively explore what they could fetch for Tobias Harris in a trade this offseason.
Harris is no stranger to trade rumors. Last November, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported the Sixers had “begun their usual check-ins with teams around the league” as trade talks began heating up, and Harris had “come up in [their] conversations with clubs.” They dangled him prior to the 2022 trade deadline as well, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Sixers opted against dealing Harris either time, although it’s unclear what the other teams were offering for him. With multiple years left on his contract, he likely had neutral to negative trade value, and the Sixers don’t have many remaining assets to include as sweeteners in a deal. But the new CBA might swing that pendulum back in the Sixers’ favor this offseason.
Beginning in July, teams that are above the second apron can take back only 110 percent of the salary they send out in a trade instead of the current 125 percent and won’t have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception in free agency, according to Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype. Further restrictions kick in ahead of the 2024-25 season, which means teams may be in a frenzy to rid themselves of nonessential long-term salary over the next year.
Harris is on the second-biggest contract ($39.3 million) guaranteed to expire in 2024, trailing only Klay Thompson ($43.2 million). It’s tough to imagine the Golden State Warriors breaking apart the Splash Brothers this summer, but the Sixers should have no such remorse about parting ways with Harris in the right deal.
The Sixers might target different packages in return for Harris depending on whether they’re able to re-sign James Harden. They’d likely prefer a combination of win-now players and draft picks either way, but the pendulum might swing more toward the former if Harden stays and more toward the latter if he departs.
The Dallas Mavericks stand out as a potential landing spot for Harris regardless of whether they’re able to re-sign Kyrie Irving this offseason. They could clear nearly $37.7 million off their books for the 2024-25 season by packaging Tim Hardaway Jr. ($16.2 million) and Davis Bertans ($16 million early-termination option) with the No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft ($5.5 million). They could also offer JaVale McGee, who has a $6.0 million player option in 2024-25, in case the Sixers decide against re-signing Paul Reed in free agency.
Only a handful of teams are projected to have enough salary-cap space to absorb Harris’ contract outright this summer, and the Sixers would have to incentivize them to do so, which they should have no interest in doing. They already have precious few draft picks to offer, and there’s value in having Harris’ money come off the books next summer, even if their pathway to a max cap slot isn’t particularly wide.
Some cap-space teams could look at Harris as a way to clear long-term money from their books as well, though. The San Antonio Spurs stand out as one such possibility.
Doug McDermott is on a $13.8 million expiring contract, but Devonte’ Graham is set to make $12.1 million this year and $12.7 million in 2024-25. As the Spurs gear up to build around presumptive No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama for the next decade-plus, they might prefer as much financial flexibility as possible.
The Utah Jazz, Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers don’t have any egregious long-term money on their books, so they’d likely have to value Harris’ on-court contributions to take on his contract without additional sweeteners. The Sixers presumably wouldn’t think twice about swapping Harris for Pistons wing Bojan Bogdanovic ($20.0 million) or Pacers guard Buddy Hield ($19.3 million), but those two teams would be better off flipping Bogdanovic and Hield for more assets elsewhere.
The Charlotte Hornets could be a wild card if they’re looking to escape from the final three seasons of Terry Rozier’s four-year, $96.3 million contract, particularly if they’d be willing to attach draft compensation (aside from the No. 2 overall pick). Cody Martin or Nick Richards could serve as extra salary filler, and they have recent first-round picks such as James Bouknight or Kai Jones whom they might be willing to toss in as sweeteners.
The Sixers should also place a call to the Atlanta Hawks, who are facing some particularly thorny financial decisions within the next 13 months. They already have five players earning $15 million or more in 2024-25, and Dejounte Murray, Onyeka Okongwu and Saddiq Bey all become eligible for extensions this summer. They’ll have to start shedding some of their longer-term salary soon, which means players such as John Collins ($25.3 million), Clint Capela ($20.6 million) and Bogdan Bogdanovic ($18.7 million) might become available at a discount.
No one should expect the Sixers to fetch a massive haul for Harris, who remains one of the most comically overpaid players throughout the NBA. But teams with bloated, longer-term deals could value the ability to clear $39.3 million off their books after next season, particularly with the draconian new CBA set to take effect this summer. That could finally turn Harris’ contract into a positive asset instead of an albatross.