As we all twiddle our thumbs and doomscroll awaiting the inevitable James Harden trade, the Sixers came up in another context in the slop mill this week.
On Wednesday, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Buddy Hield and the Indiana Pacers had “started a dialogue to work on finding a potential trade with another team” after contract extension talks stalled out. One day later, Charania mentioned the Sixers as being among the teams that had expressed interest Hield in recent months.
While it might only feel right to turn longtime Future Sixer Buddy Hield into Actual Sixer Buddy Hield, one immediate and one long-term obstacle could stand in the way of that.
The immediate concern is the NBA’s salary-matching rules for trades. Since the Sixers are over the first salary-cap apron, they can take back no more than 110 percent of the salary they send out in any trade this year.
Hield has a $19.3 million cap hit this year, which means the Sixers would have to send out at least $17.5 million in salary in exchange for his contract. Other than Harden ($35.6 million), Tobias Harris ($39.3 million) and Joel Embiid ($47.6 million), the Sixers’ next-highest-paid player is P.J. Tucker at $11.0 million.
The Sixers might welcome the opportunity to fold Hield into a potential Harden trade, as Hield has been one of the best three-point shooters over the past half-decade. He drilled 42.5 percent of his 8.5 long-range attempts per game last year with the Pacers, and only Stephen Curry has drilled more triples than Hield since he entered the NBA in 2016-17. It’s easy to envision him becoming a souped-up version of what J.J. Redick and Seth Curry once were alongside Embiid.
But if the Sixers can’t incorporate Hield into a trade for Harden and/or Harris, it’ll be difficult for them to piece together enough salary to acquire him. They’d have to include both Tucker and at least one other contract, if not more.
De’Anthony Melton is earning $8.0 million this season, so combining his contract with Tucker’s would be nearly a dollar-for-dollar match with Hield. However, the Sixers likely wouldn’t give up both Tucker and Melton unless they had zero hope of re-signing either one next summer or were getting more than only Hield in return.
If they don’t include Melton, their other option would be Furkan Korkmaz’s $5.4 million contract. However, combining him with Tucker still leaves them more than $1.0 million short of the $17.5 million that they’d have to send out in a trade for Hield.
The Sixers could try to talk the Pacers into trading Hield for Tucker, Korkmaz and Jaden Springer. Outside of that, they’d be running low on non-Harden/Harris options.
Even if the Sixers overcome that obstacle, they’d have to consider the long-term implications of acquiring Hield.
Back in mid-July, team president Daryl Morey was espousing the value of being the only contender with possible max-level cap space next summer. Hield is on an expiring contract, which means they’d have his cap hold on their books until he signs elsewhere or they renounce his free-agent rights.
If the Sixers could envision the 30-year-old Hield as part of their core over the next few years, perhaps they’d be willing to re-sign him. However, Charania reported that the Pacers offered him “an extension in recent weeks, but it’s believed their proposal did not make the seven-year guard feel desired.”
Before ramping up interest in Hield, the Sixers should first get a general sense of what he’s hoping to receive next summer in free agency. If they aren’t in the same ballpark as his agent, they might view him more as a one-year rental and refuse to offer as much value in a trade.
Hield’s cap hold next summer would leave them far short of being able to offer a maximum-salary contract to another star in free agency. They’d have to weigh whether what they give up for him is worth jeopardizing their star hunt, particularly if the plan B is just re-signing him and adding role players around him.
The Sixers could be looking at Hield as a way to free up more cap space by getting out of Tucker’s contract, though. Tucker has an $11.5 million player option in 2024-25 that he figures to exercise, and clearing that from their books would leave them with Embiid and Paul Reed as the only two players on guaranteed contracts beyond this season.
With speculation about Embiid’s long-term happiness beginning to bubble over, don’t be surprised to see the Sixers pop up in trade rumors over the coming months. Morey figures to explore as many opportunities as possible, particularly with the backdrop of the still-unresolved Harden trade request hanging over him.
Harden’s $35.6 million contract could open a world of salary-matching possibilities for the Sixers if they do begin to explore trades for him again. Otherwise, it’ll be tough for them to be in serious contention for anyone in Hield’s price range, much less higher than that.