The Sixers have been linked to Kyle Lowry for years, with rumors connecting the two coming as recent as this past weekend. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Sixers are one of a handful of teams on the shortlist to acquire Lowry, along with the Lakers, Mavs, Pelicans, and Heat.
Naturally, speculation on a homecoming for the Philly native made rounds through local media. Just this morning, Keith Pompey of The Philly Inquirer cited sources who revealed that, “If there’s a sign-and-trade [with the Sixers] that can be done that can get him there, and he gets $25 to $30 million, [Lowry] will consider it.” (No duh).
However, despite constant rumors and Lowry’s obvious fit next to Embiid and Simmons, the odds of him joining the Sixers are more slim than is being suggested.
For starters, since the Sixers are over the salary cap, they’re unable to use outright “room” or cap space on him—in other words, they can’t “just sign him,” as you’ll incorrectly see suggested throughout Lowry discourse. In order for Morey to acquire him, he’ll need to execute a sign-and-trade with the Raptors. While such a move makes sense in a vacuum, the financial implications of doing so make a trade for Lowry more tricky to maneuver than is being reported.
Just as a reminder, because I feel like this isn't talked about enough, but acquiring Kyle Lowry in a sign-and-trade would create a hard cap for the Sixers at $143 million in salary for the upcoming season.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) July 27, 2021
Per the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement:
“When a team below the Apron receives a player who is signed-and-traded, the team becomes hard-capped at the Apron for the remainder of that season… If a team is hard-capped, it cannot exceed the Apron under any circumstance.”(via CBA FAQ)
What does this mean?
Without getting too far into specifics, the NBA has a “soft” salary cap which allows teams to operate/spend money above the cap limit using certain exceptions—re-signing their own free agents (bird rights), draft picks, veteran minimum contracts, MLE, BAE, etc…—and as long as a team is using those exceptions they can balloon their salary bill as high as they want (or as much as they can foot on the luxury tax bill).
However, there are three things a front office can do that will “hard cap” them at the tax apron (a number set roughly $6 million above the luxury tax) and receiving a player via sign-and-trade is one of them. With the Sixers already sitting at $131+ million in salaries for next season, adding Lowry and his roughly ~$25 million takes the team right up to that tax apron after factoring in the moves necessary to make the deal work.
In other words, if the Sixers want to add Lowry it would require losing Danny Green, Furkan Korkmaz, George Hill, the 28th overall Draft pick, and the ability to make a single move of significance in addition to Lowry. This doesn’t even factor in the asset or two that’ll be required to acquire him in the first place (Milton? Thybulle?). Put simply, any scenario where the Sixers do in fact trade for Lowry won’t see them confidently improving their roster—it would be more of a ‘shake-it-up and cross-your-fingers’ type of decision.
As much as I would welcome this homecoming, and as much as Lowry fits the needs of the roster, the reality is that the Sixers view him as a “plan C or D” this offseason, if anything more than a simple smokescreen for the purposes of propping up Lillard/Beal trade leverage.