Throughout the offseason, we’ve heard hints that the Sixers are prioritizing their long-term financial flexibility as they sort through whether to trade James Harden. They aren’t planning to sign Tyrese Maxey to an extension until next year, according to multiple reports, and they won’t trade Tobias Harris’ $39.3 million expiring contract unless they only receive expiring deals in return, per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
During a radio interview with 97.5 The Fanatic’s Anthony Gargano on Tuesday, Sixers president Daryl Morey explained why maintaining that flexibility has been such a big organizational focus.
“What we’re attempting to do is have the best team possible this year, but also have the ability that, if we get into a next-season situation, to be a very unique team with the most cap room of a team that’s as good as us,” he said. “That’s a very unique situation to have.”
Morey also highlighted how the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement could make that even more advantageous for the Sixers. The full array of financial penalties for the league’s most expensive teams take effect next offseason, which he expects will put “massive constraints downward on salaries in the league.”
“So, us being the only team with a top player that a player can join is gonna put us in a very unique situation,” he added.
Morey hesitated to call this strategy a two-year plan, as he noted the Sixers are still “trying to win this season coming up.” However, he acknowledged that they “have to keep an eye on how we’re gonna compete moving forward as well.”
Aside from Harden unexpectedly picking up his $35.6 million player option, the Sixers’ decision not to sign Maxey to an extension has been the biggest surprise of their offseason. Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton each quickly signed five-year extensions that could be worth up to $260 million with their respective teams, while the Memphis Grizzlies gave Desmond Bane a five-year, $197.2 million deal with an additional $8.7 million in unlikely-to-be-earned incentives.
Morey still envisions Maxey as a “cornerstone” of the franchise “for a very long time,” but he cited a “quirk of the CBA” as the reason to hold off on an extension.
“He definitely has All-Star ability,” Morey told Gargano. “That’s why we want to make sure that we can set ourselves up to have multiple All-Stars. The reason to not extend him, and we’ve shared this with his representation and they understand, is because of a quirk of the CBA, we will be able to add a significant player next year before we extend Maxey.”
If the Sixers extended Maxey this offseason, the starting salary of his new deal would immediately go on their books next summer. Considering what Tyler Herro ($27 million) and Jordan Poole ($28 million) are set to earn in the first season of their respective extensions, the floor for Maxey’s starting salary on an extension might be $30 million. Add in the $51.4 million that Joel Embiid is set to earn in 2024-25, and the Sixers would already have more than $80 million committed to those two alone.
However, if the Sixers wait to extend Maxey, he would count as only $13.0 million against the cap next summer until they re-sign him. That means they might realistically be looking at $50-plus million of salary-cap space, which would enable them to hand out a max contract to any free agent of their choosing. With LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Jaylen Brown, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Klay Thompson among the players who could become free agents next summer, the Sixers might be eyeing a big splash.
Morey didn’t specify which (if any) of those players he might be targeting. (The last thing the Sixers need is another tampering penalty.) But he perhaps gave a hint when Gargano asked him about the ideal archetype of player to pair with Embiid.
“I think an elite on-ball who can play both on-ball and off-ball wing is really the perfect complement,” Morey said.
Might Leonard or Anunoby be open to a reunion with new Sixers head coach Nick Nurse next summer? Could George be a realistic target if he doesn’t sign an extension with the Los Angeles Clippers before then? Would LeBron be open to ending his career in Philly, especially if the Sixers use their 2024 first-round pick to select Bronny James?
Splurging on a big-name free agent isn’t the only way the Sixers could use cap space next summer, though. The Atlanta Hawks gave John Collins to the Utah Jazz basically for free this offseason because the Jazz had enough cap space to absorb him without sending much salary back. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder continued stockpiling draft picks by taking on unwanted contracts such as Davis Bertans and Victor Oladipo. Given the Sixers’ dearth of picks—they have only three first-round picks and three second-round picks over the next five years—they should be looking to restock that cupboard however possible.
In the meantime, the Sixers have to worry about their short-term future, particularly in the wake of Joel Embiid’s now-viral comments about wanting to win a championship “in Philly or anywhere else.” Morey batted down any concerns about an imminent Embiid trade request, but he did address the losses of Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels and Shake Milton in free agency.
“All the depth we lost, if we had done something to bring them back, it would have hurt our ability to compete down the road,” he told Gargano.
Niang, McDaniels and Milton did sign multiyear deals with their new teams, which would have sliced into the Sixers’ cap space next summer. Morey didn’t sound all that concerned about their departures, either.
“We have players on the roster that we think can step up,” he said. “A [Jaden] Springer. A [Patrick] Beverley, we like what he’s gonna add. We like what [Danuel House Jr.] can do. Again, he had very good key moments in the playoffs this year. He brings that athleticism that we need. Paul Reed going into another season. We like what Mo Bamba can bring us and his versatility.”
We’ll likely have to wait until next summer to see what Morey has up his sleeve. But as you concoct Harden and Harris trade ideas over the coming weeks, keep in mind that the Sixers likely won’t want multiyear contracts in return for either one unless they’re long-term, high-level complements to Embiid and Maxey.
With all due respect to Norman Powell, the Sixers appear to be eyeing bigger fish.