Fresh off another season that fell short of expectations, the Sixers are headed back to the drawing board. While much of the foundation is in place, Daryl Morey has his work cut out for him in terms of improving a rotation that had already been much improved from the previous season.
With the team well above the salary cap for 2021-22, the front office is limited in what they can do to improve the roster outside of trades, draft picks, contract exceptions, and re-signing their own free agents using Bird Rights. Given this restricted financial situation, they have little to no choice but to re-up on whichever of their pending free agents they can afford this offseason.
The Sixers have four soon-to-be free agents (Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, Dwight Howard, Mike Scott) and one team option (George Hill) to make a decision on from last year’s rotation. Here’s a breakdown of each situation heading into the offseason.
Danny Green (UFA)
The Sixers own Early Bird rights to Green, which means they can re-sign him for up to 175% of his previous salary without using cap room (remember, the Sixers are over the cap). In other words, they can offer him up to $26.8 million per year if they wanted to. Though I think it goes without saying that his number won’t be anywhere near that high.
Considering the Sixers don’t have cap space, and thus, no means of signing new players outside of “exceptions” and league minimums, they’d be foolish not to bring Green back. I don’t expect his market to be any higher than the $10 million range (give or take), so something like 2/$25 or 3/$35 should get the deal done.
Verdict: Stay (2 years, $25 million)
Furkan Korkmaz (UFA)
Korkmaz is another pending free agent whom the Sixers own early bird rights to. However, since he’s only making the league minimum this season, the 175% figure that I referenced above doesn’t apply. Instead, the team can offer him up to the average NBA salary from the previous year—a number that’s estimated to be around $10-11 million.
In the Sixers case, considering the previously mentioned restrictions they’re facing this offseason, they should be willing to pony up every penny of the maximum amount allowed under his early bird rights. For example, let’s say the NBA’s average salary is set at $10.5 million, using the 8% escalation rate also afforded under these rights, the Sixers will be able to offer Korkmaz a max of 4 years $48 million this offseason.
The fundamental question with Furkan then becomes whether or not a team with cap space is willing to offer him a contract valued over $12 million per year (or perhaps a similar number with the promise of a bigger role). The answer to that is obviously to be determined, but my instinct tells me he’s looking to ink a long-term deal, and I doubt there’s a team out there willing to offer the 3/$40 or 4/$52 that they would need to outbid his bird rights. With that said, if any of these players is going to be priced out of the Sixers allowable range, it’s Korkmaz.
Verdict: Stay (4 years, $48 million)
George Hill (Team Option)
The Hill situation is pretty straightforward—he has a team option set at $10 million for next season and picking that up is nothing more than a formality. He’ll either be a strong role player off the bench for the Sixers in 2021-22, or trade bait for the front office’s pursuit of another star this offseason.
His contract makes for ideal trade filler (expiring, helps match salary) and he has residual value for a rebuilding team whom can turn around and flip him for a second round pick at the desdline. In the event that the Sixers don’t include him in a trade package, his veteran contribution off the bench is easily worth the $10 million player option that otherwise couldn’t be spent on another player (which essentially makes him “free” as far as you and I are concerned). Expect this option to be picked up immediately.
Verdict: Stay (option picked up at $10 mil.)
Dwight Howard (UFA)
Unlike Green and Korkmaz, Howard can only be re-signed using Non-Bird Rights—meaning they can only offer up to 120% of his previous season’s salary (somewhere in the $2-3 million range). This is obviously very affordable for a backup five who played decent for the bulk of the season, but given the team’s clear need for a different style of backup for Embiid (more shooting, mobility, versatility, etc…) they may not have any desire to bring him back as anything more than a veteran presence in the locker room (a role he may not want to accept).
Mike Scott (UFA)
Scott falls into the basket of free agents with Early Bird Rights, but the Sixers won’t offer him anything more than the league minimum to return, if they offer anything at all. I’ll always appreciate Scott for what he brought to the team in the way of culture and toughness, but aside from one fleeting stretch in 2019, he never meaningfully contributed on the floor throughout his tenure. Truth be told, even if he wanted to return on the minimum, the Sixers could make better use out of his roster spot with a young flier on the perimeter as opposed to reupping on an aging tweener-big who seems to have lost his shot.