The Sixers set themselves up nicely. That is a strange thing to write considering they won only 19 games, but it is the truth. That’s what this past year was about -- more than accumulating losses, it was about compiling options.
That is, ostensibly, what Josh Harris meant when he bricked his evaluation of the season worse than Byron Mullens ever could. (OK, fine, Mullens could do worse.) When Harris called the season a “huge success,” he was heavily and rightly criticized for it. You can serve up a plan and ask people to choke down 63 losses while promising a more appetizing future, but you must be careful to pick the right words during the digestion process. Harris was not careful. Harris belched up two words that people found distasteful.
The language faux pas aside, Harris’s underlying point (again, ostensibly) was that the losses and the season, however painful, came in service of something greater. As next week’s draft lottery approaches, the Sixers figure to have seven picks, including two in the top 10. That is an accomplishment, and it should help expedite the organization’s rebuild.
Beyond that -- and this is something we sometimes overlook while daydreaming about all those draft picks and what Sam Hinkie might do with them -- the Sixers have one of the best salary cap situations in the league. That means they are one of the most flexible teams in the league. The cap for next year will reportedly increase to around $63 million. That’s about $5 million more than the cap for the 2013-14 campaign. That puts the Sixers in quite a comfortable position.
In the process of all his maneuvering over the last year, Hinkie scrubbed the roster to the point where the cap sheet is pretty clean. The Sixers currently have five guaranteed contracts for next year: Thaddeus Young ($9.4 million), Nerlens Noel ($3.3 million), Michael Carter-Williams ($2.3 million), Tony Wroten ($1.2 million) and Arnett Moultrie ($1.1 million). Moultrie is the new Kwame Brown. He gets paid to eat the buffet and not play basketball, but probably not for long.
The Sixers also have two guys with player options: Jason Richardson ($6.6 million) and Mullens ($1 million). You are forgiven if you forgot Richardson is still on the team. Both are locks to pick up their options because, hey, free money. And the Sixers have $2.1 million in dead money because they acquired Eric Maynor and then asked him to go away. Not bad as severance packages go.
For the purposes of this quick math exercise, we’ll proceed as though they’re all on the books next season -- even though Young said he wasn’t sure he wants to return. That means the Sixers have around $27 million in salary commitments for next year. If they end up with the second- and 10th-overall picks, they’ll take on approximately $6.1 million more, according to the rookie scale. That puts them around $33 million, which means they should have something like $30 million in cap space. That’s a lot.
Remember, all these numbers are approximate. But when comparing the Sixers’ approximation with how other teams look heading into the offseason, it’s obvious that the Sixers have plenty of financial maneuverability. Along with the Suns, Jazz and Mavericks, the Sixers are looking at the most cap space in the league.
But just because the Sixers have the money, don’t expect them to spend it. Not yet. The Sixers have been pretty transparent about their blueprint. Going on a free-agent shopping spree this summer would be a radical departure from their blueprint. While the 2014 free-agent class could include all sorts of big names depending on various player and early termination options, it’s unlikely that the Sixers would throw big money at some of the big names. It’s equally unlikely that those big names would take their big money since the Sixers aren’t ready to win yet.
The more plausible scenario: The Sixers go young and cheap again, develop their in-house talent, lose more games, hopefully land in the lottery once more, roll over the bulk of their cap space and then go after players from the 2015 free-agent crop that fit their designs.
The Sixers have options. They are financially flexible. That’s one of the best things you can say about a team that’s starting over under the constraints of the current CBA. Josh Harris wasn’t wrong -- he just put it the wrong way.