Sixers Notes: Cap Space, Embiid, Harden, Investigation

It’s no secret leaguewide that Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is maintaining cap flexibility with an eye toward 2024 free agency. Joel Embiid and P.J. Tucker are currently the only two players who look like locks to have salaries on the books next offseason, with Embiid owed $51.4MM next year and under team control until 2026, and Tucker possessing an $11.5MM player option for 2023/24 he seems likely to exercise.

It goes further than just having two players under guaranteed money next season, however. The Sixers had the opportunity to extend rising star guard Tyrese Maxey beginning July 1 but haven’t done so, in order to maintain said flexibility. Maxey does have a cap hold of around $13MM, though. The James Harden saga illustrates that the Sixers were unwilling to give Harden a max contract that would have affected their ’24 cap space. All signs point toward the Sixers aiming to add a star or two to pair alongside Embiid next summer.

In a recent piece, The Athletic’s Danny Leroux looks ahead to next year’s offseason and considers some of the names the Sixers could target. If the Sixers look to a star player in free agency, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Jrue Holiday are among the max-level players Philadelphia could aim to sign. There are pros and cons to signing each player, but Leroux suggests Anunoby would be the best outcome here, despite less star-power than the other options, due to his on-court ability and age.

Leroux also writes that the Sixers could package their space, which he speculates could be as much as 35% of the total cap, and sign two players whose contract sums equal one max. The biggest names in this category include DeMar DeRozan and Klay Thompson, though both come with their fair share of risks and seem unlikely, at this time, to depart their incumbent teams. Miami’s Caleb Martin and Charlotte’s Gordon Hayward are two sleepers Leroux believes the Sixers could sign away next year.

Lastly, the Sixers also have the option to swing a trade for a star rather than signing one. But Leroux also notes a few issues with this approach. For starters, it would be difficult for the asset-depleted Sixers to match salaries or send out enough to entice a team to trade a star. However, Leroux notes that waiting until free agency is often a risky situation and that they could opt to trade for somebody if they can navigate their assets, especially if an opposing star asks for a trade, which seems to be an inevitability in the modern NBA.

Philadelphia has to be careful with how it approaches the next year. Failing to surround Embiid, who will be 30 after next season and has a history with injuries, comes with risk. Leroux calls this next year Philadelphia’s “one bite at the apple” and a “roll of the dice,” which could end poorly if the Sixers don’t add talent that helps propel themselves into the next tier of contending teams.

We have more from Philadelphia:

  • Speaking of Embiid, Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill writes that the saga between Harden and Morey could have a lasting impact on the franchise’s relationship with its MVP. While Embiid is saying all of the right things publicly, Goodwill writes that many around the league expect him to request a trade sooner rather than later and think that Morey is secretly hoping for a full-blown rebuild. Things could get ugly fast when or if Harden reports for training camp with the Sixers, which could have residual effects on Philadelphia’s performance and Embiid’s state of mind, Goodwill writes. Miami and New York are teams that are keeping a close eye on Embiid’s situation, according to Goodwill.
  • In case you missed it this morning, the league is launching an investigation into whether Harden’s comments on Morey implicate either party in engaging in a handshake agreement last summer on a future contract. Marc Stein of Substack (subscriber link) recently discussed the topic before the investigation launched today. If the league determines Harden’s comments referred to a contractual promise from Philadelphia last summer, the Sixers will certainly face league discipline, Stein writes. However, if Harden’s comments are about the Sixers promising to trade him and then reneging on that promise, there is not a violation of league rules. According to Stein, it’s difficult to see Harden being punished for his comments in China, since he didn’t publicly demand a trade and no league rules prohibit him from speaking down to a high-ranking executive in an organization.
  • Stein suggests in the same Substack article that the Sixers still have the upper hand in this situation, given the language in the league’s collective bargaining agreement that limits Harden’s ability to become a free agent next summer if he doesn’t play out the final year of his contract. One thing that could change that, Stein notes, is if Embiid sides with Harden in this ordeal and doesn’t buy into the Sixers’ plan of taking a step back this season before aggressively approaching the 2024 offseason.
  • ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on The Hoop Collective (YouTube link) stated that the Clippers and Sixers haven’t had any substantive discussions on a Harden trade, his preferred destination, which echoes ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski’s report from this morning. Goodwill, whose reporting backs this up, writes that Morey actually isn’t stuck on receiving Terance Mann in a deal with the Clippers, which had been reported as one hold-up between the two teams. Morey is believed to be more interested in adding first-round draft picks to his cabinet, according to Goodwill. Stein writes that despite this and the fact that he can’t sign an extension there, or with any team that trades for him, Harden’s desire is still to be dealt to the Clippers.
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