As we await the inevitable conclusion of the James Harden Trade Saga (Part III), some other Sixers slop has trickled out in recent days.
First, Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported that the Sixers are *not* expected to sign Tyrese Maxey to an extension this offseason. Meanwhile, Tyrese Haliburton, Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball and Desmond Bane have all already received max extensions. Both Neubeck and Shelburne emphasized that the Sixers still see Maxey as a big part of their future, but they’re prioritizing the financial flexibility they can gain if they hold off on extending him until next summer.
Maxey’s starting salary on his next contract figures to be around or above $30 million, but he’ll have only a $13.0 million cap hold if he becomes a restricted free agent. With the Sixers’ books largely clean next summer—Joel Embiid is the only player who’s guaranteed to be under contract beyond this season—they could create significant cap space and then re-sign Maxey after spending that money.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said the Sixers “have not shown an interest in trading Tobias Harris,” who is heading into the final season of his five-year, $180 million contract.
“Harris has been involved in some trade discussions, and they have not shown an interest in trading him,” Windhorst said on the Hoop Collective podcast. “And if anybody does trade for him, it’s been made known that it would only be for expiring contracts.”
So, to recap: The Sixers aren’t planning on extending Maxey this summer to preserve flexibility, and if they trade Harris, they want only expiring contracts in return. Cue the Windy meme.
If the Sixers include P.J. Tucker in an eventual Harden trade—he has an $11.5 million player option in 2024-25—Jaden Springer is the only other player at the moment who might be under contract next offseason. (He has a $4.0 million team option.) If the Sixers declined that and wiped everyone off their books except for Embiid and Maxey, they could create upward of $60 million of cap space, depending where the final 2024-25 cap falls.
If the cap does jump to $149.6 million next season—the full 10 percent that it’s allowed to increase on a year-by-year basis—a max salary will be nearly $45 million for a player with 7-9 years of NBA experience and nearly $52 million for a player with 10 or more years. The Sixers couldn’t quite create two full max slots if they keep Maxey around, but they could be setting themselves up as one of the power players of next offseason regardless.
Again, it’s fair to wonder what the endgame is here. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and OG Anunoby all have player options next offseason, while Pascal Siakam and Jaylen Brown are among the players currently set to become unrestricted free agents. (Dejounte Murray was in that boat as well until he came to terms on a four-year, $120 million extension with the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday.)
How eager will the Sixers be to send Harden to the Los Angeles Clippers if they’re hoping to pry away one of Leonard or George in 2024 free agency? Would Siakam or Anunoby entertain a reunion with new Sixers head coach Nick Nurse? Would Brown entertain the Sixers if the Boston Celtics don’t give him a supermax extension?
Although the Houston Rockets apparently think otherwise, teams can use cap space in ways other than splurging on free agents, too.
The Utah Jazz essentially got John Collins for free this offseason because they helped the Atlanta Hawks generate a massive trade exception. The Oklahoma City Thunder have continued their rent-a-cap-space scheme in exchange for even more future draft capital. With the full set of second-apron penalties kicking in ahead of the 2024-25 season, teams may be even more desperate to offload long-term salary next summer than they were this year.
That could help inform what types of packages the Sixers are hoping to receive in exchange for Harden. They might be less inclined to take on Norman Powell, who still has three years and $57.7 million remaining on his contract, than the expiring deals of Marcus Morris ($17.1 million), Nic Batum ($11.7 million) and Process legend Robert Covington ($11.7 million).
Terance Mann, who’s earning $10.6 million this year and $11.4 million next year, might be an early sticking point in talks. K.J. Martin, who’s earning only $1.9 million and would fit into the Sixers’ $2.4 million Matisse Thybulle trade exception—thereby eliminating any concern about his aggregation restriction—could be an acceptable alternative. His cap hold next summer would be microscopic, while Mann would meaningfully cut into however much cap space the Sixers create.
Turning down Mann or Powell in favor of strictly expiring contracts would be a huge risk unless the Sixers have a firm idea of who might be interested in joining Embiid and Maxey. Having nothing of consequence to show for Harden or Harris a year from now might be the final nail in the coffin of the Embiid era in Philly. But this might be their last realistic chance to pivot around Embiid, too.
The war chest that Sam Hinkie built during the Process years has dwindled down to almost nothing. The Sixers can offer one first-round pick (in either 2029 or 2030) and Maxey in trades, but that’s about it in terms of blue-chip assets. The stakes of the Harden trade couldn’t be higher.
The same is true of whatever comes next.