Sixers: Free Agency Primer

After last week’s NBA Draft, the offseason is well underway. The legal tampering period for Free Agency begins tonight at 6 p.m. (with teams officially able to sign players starting August 6th).

Needless to say, the NBA offseason unfolds fast from this point on. Here’s everything you need to know about the Sixers options heading into their biggest week of the summer (cap situation, tools to improve the roster, specific needs, realistic targets, and more).

Can the Sixers sign free agents?

Yes and no.

Without actual room under the salary cap, the Sixers cannot sign free agents unless they fall under certain “exceptions.”

“The basic rule of the NBA’s salary cap is that a team can’t sign a player or make a trade that leaves the team’s team salary above the cap, unless the team is using an exception. In a system with a soft cap, exceptions are the mechanisms that allow teams to function while above the cap.”

(via CBA FAQ)

What about the team’s own free agents?

NBA teams are able to re-sign any of their own free agents (above the cap) by using what are called Bird Rights, or “Larry Bird” exceptions. The value of these rights are essentially determined by how long a player hasn’t tested free agency, with those playing on the same team for 3+ seasons able to sign for the max salary using “Full” Bird Rights—there’s also Early Bird (2 years) and Non-Bird (1 year) exceptions.

How do Bird Rights apply to the Sixers own free agents?

The Sixers own Early Bird rights to Danny Green, which means they can re-sign him for up to 175% of his previous salary—in other words, they can offer up to $26.8 million per year if they wanted to. Green certainly won’t fetch that amount on the open market (despite there being suitors for him) and Morey should be more than willing to outbid anyone to bring him back. My guess is he re-ups on 2 years for roughly $25-30 million. Remember, the Sixers wouldn’t be able to spend this money elsewhere—it’s either earmarked for Green, or nobody.

Furkan 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. I expect suitors for Korkmaz to be in the $5-10 million range at most, so if someone is able to match our salary offer with a bigger role then he might be willing to jump ship, otherwise I see him as a 60/40 proposition to return (guess: 3 years $21 million).

Unlike Green and Korkmaz, Dwight 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 affordable for a backup five who played well for most 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 want to bring him back as anything more than a veteran presence in the locker room (a role he may not want to accept).

What are some other available exceptions?

The Minimum Salary Exception, which allows salary capped teams to sign any player to a league minimum contract despite being over the cap. This is what allows most contenders to fill out the back end of their roster.

They can spend the “taxpayer” Mid-Level Exception (MLE)—or mini-MLE—valued at $5.8 million on one or multiple free agents. While some teams have the “full” or “non-taxpayer” MLE valued at $9.2 million, spending more than the allotted taxpayer MLE triggers a hard cap (something the Sixers don’t plan on doing unless it becomes necessary).

They also have the Bi-annual Exception (BAE), valued at a shade under $4 million, which can only be used once every two seasons. BUT this also triggers the hard cap—in other words, don’t count on the Sixers using it.

What about a sign-and-trade?

In short, the Sixers likely won’t be pursuing a sign-and-trade unless they feel like that’s the only way to improve the roster for this season. The reason for that? Sign-and-trades trigger a hard cap for the team receiving that player, and given that the Sixers are already up against the cap apron (the would-be hard cap limit), using this maneuver to improve the roster should hardly be a “Plan A” for Morey.

“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)

Does that make a Kyle Lowry acquisition unlikely?

Sadly, yes. There are a number of strong sign-and-trade options whom would make sense for the Sixers, but given the financial implications this sort of maneuver just doesn’t make sense (at least a Plan A). You can find more on that here.

What about regular trades?

Straight-up player/contract swaps are always on the table as long as teams abide by salary-matching rules. For example, the Sixers can’t receive more than 125% of the salaries that they send out (if they want to acquire a player whose contract is worth $20 million, they need to send $16 million worth of contracts in return).

One final exception that relates to trades is the Traded Player Exception (TPE) which is afforded to teams who take on less salary in a given trade (the Sixers own an $8.1 million Exception from the Al Horford trade). This allows Morey to execute a trade in which the TPE essentially imitates a contract slot for salary purposes—in other words, he can pair a $1.5 million minimum contract with the $8.1 TPE from Horford and add a salary up to $9.6 million in return (expect the Sixers to use this in the near future).

What do the Sixers actually need?

Of course, the roster needs a Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal, but in terms of the sort of holes that can realistically be filled without making a blockbuster trade, the Sixers have a few areas where they should look to upgrade—secondary playmaking, point-of-attack defense, bigger bodies on the wing (a 3/4 or 4/5 tweener), a stretch-5/perimeter big, and you can never have too many catch-and-shoot threats.

Obviously the Sixers only option to drastically alter the roster is by executing a trade (with a deal including Simmons going the furthest in that regard) but as far as the “run it back” scenarios go, Morey’s options are pretty limited—as is often the case for contenders. The team can re-sign their own free agents, use the mini-MLE ($5.8 mil.), hope to trade for a piece with the TPE ($8.1 mil.), and ideally add a piece or two on veteran minimums (~$2 mil.). Between those moves, and the internal development of our roster (Thybulle, Maxey, Reed, etc…), that may be all the Sixers need this offseason to take the roster over the top—only time will tell.

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