How Low Can We Go? Looking At How Far the Sixers Might Tank This Year

How Low Can We Go? Looking At How Far the Sixers Might Tank This Year

Are we sure that Doug Collins isn't secretly, like, a brilliant tanker?
We've gotten so caught up in the question of why he continues to play
Damien Wilkins and Royal Ivey over the higher-upside likes of Arnett
Moultrie, Charles Jenkins and even Dorell Wright—is he just overvaluing
his veterans? Does he really hate young guys that much? Are the Russians
somehow involved?—that maybe we're just totally glazing over the
obvious answer that Collins really doesn't want to win ballgames that
badly right now. After all, maybe Moultrie and Jenkins are like,
secretly really awesome at basketball—at least with Ivey and Wilkins,
you now the low-ceiling brand of hoops you're getting.


Anyway, if that is Dougie's brilliant, evil plot, it's totally
working. After dropping two to the Heat and Knicks this weekend, the
Sixers have lost five in a row, and are now a full ten games under .500,
officially their lowest point since the Eddie Jordan era. Once seen as a
playoff challenger in the East—and sadly, they still technically are,
just four games back of the similarly sagging Bucks—the Sixers have even
now fallen back to Toronto territory, the Raps having played much
better since acquiring Rudy Gay in a trade and getting a couple other
players back from injury. Were the season to end today, the Sixers would
finish with the 11th-worst record in the league, giving them about a 1%
chance of landing in the lottery.


Now, you probably don't need me to tell you why this is important,
but I'll do it anyway—the Sixers, as a young and (ostensibly) improving
team, are now in a position to additionally acquire an invaluable asset
at season's end with a top-ten draft pick. This could potentially
benefit the Sixers in one of two important ways: Either it gives them a
chance to add a potential core player to their existing
Jrue-Evan-Thad-(maybe Funny Looking Kid With the Big Hair?) unit,
cementing the team as one of the most promising young rosters in the
league, though leaving them likely still a season or two away from
possible contention. Or, they could package the pick with another one of
their non-untouchable trade assets—Evan or Thad maybe, depending on
what a team is more looking for—and try to land them a real star player
in the off-season, to go with Jrue and maybe/possibly a re-signed
FLKWTBH. It's enough to dream about, that maybe this season won't have
to end as a total waste.


Even in their best worst-case scenario, the Sixers probably won't
have a great shot at a top-three pick—we'll probably end up with at
least 30 wins, if only incidentally, so we're not likely to end with
more than a 7.5% chance or so of their ping-pong balls being selected.
Still, even if the Sixers won't be able to land a Ben McLemore or
Nerlens Noel at the top of the draft—and nobody's a surefire star in
this draft anyway—they could still get an impact player in the 6-10
range, a rangy center like Indiana's Tyler Zeller or Maryland's Alex
Len, or maybe an athletic wing slasher like UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad or
Kentucky's Alex Poythress. These guys might not be franchise players,
but they could be big pieces (no RyHo) for the Sixers, and better,
cheaper players to build around than those they'd be likely to find in
free agency.


But before we start scouting who we're going to pick, we should
figure out where we're likely to be picking. The Sixers lay in 11th now,
but they could conceivably climb much higher, depending on who among
the league's bottom-feeders they can catch near the bottom of the
standings. Let's examine the likely suspects.


1. Toronto Raptors: 23-34, 10th Worst Record in League. A
loss at home to the Wizards last night—not as embarrassing an occurrence
these days as you might think—breaks their tie with the Sixers in the
East, leaving the Raps in sole possession of 10th place in the lottery
standings. Still, as previously alluded to, our friends North of the
Border have been playing about as well as anyone in the Atlantic,
winning six of their last seven before the Washington loss, a nice core
congealing around the likes of the recently acquired swingman Rudy Gay
and improving (and recovering) young center Jonas Valanciunas. With team
management seemingly all-in on Toronto's unlikely playoff push, you can
expect they'll pass the Sixers with ease before long.


Chance of Out-Tanking: Very Good

2. Minnesota Timberwolves: 20-33, 9th Worst Record in League.
The Timberwolves got off to an impressive start with about 50% of their
roster injured at season's beginning, starting the year 13-11. Then
that 50% number got even higher, a couple returning players didn't
provide the needed boost, and the bottom fell out, with their recent win
against the Sixers (sigh) one of just six wins the T'Wolves have
accrued thusfar in 2013. Still, they've picked things up a little
recently, with point guard Ricky Rubio finally starting to impose his
will on games as he was predicted to do upon his return from ACL
surgery, and franchise power forward Kevin Love should be coming back
sometime in Mid-March. They may only have to be competent to pass the
Sixers, and with a healthier roster and the always-sturdy Rick Adelman
at the helm, they have a pretty good shot, even in the crowded West.


Chance of Out-Tanking: Good

3. Detroit Pistons: 22-36, 8th Worst Record in League.
The Pistons have teased with promise for much of the year, beating
powerhouses like the Spurs and Heat but losing a whole lot of winnable
games in between. Struggling recently, they'll get a boost with the
return of rookie sensation Andre Drummond, missing about a month with a
stress fracture. But they play only nine of their last 24 at home, and
might fold up the tent early if they decide (not erroneously) that
winning games isn't really worth their while this season. (A late game
against the Sixers on Apr 15th might very well make the difference, so,
uh, mark your calendars for that one.)


Chance of Out-Tanking: Slight

4. New Orleans Hornets: 20-37, 7th Worst Record in League.
The Hornets looked like they were ready to roll with the return of
maxed-out shooting guard Eric Gordon early in the New Year, winning six
of seven at one point and looking like they'd finally found the recipe
after a dismal 7-25 start. But the Hornets have been up-and-down ever
since then, failing to break away from the lottery contenders. The
Hornets' remaining schedule remains a tough combination of winnable road
games and challenging homers, so it'll really depend on which New
Orleans team shows up for the rest of the season to see if they'll be
able to make up the three-and-a-half game difference between them and
the Sixers.


Chance of Out-Tanking: Slightly better than slight

5. Washington Wizards, 18-37, 6th Worst Record in League.
Not long ago it would have been unimaginable to talk about the Wizards
possibly catching the Sixers in the standings—not because the Sixers
were ever that good, but because the Wizards started the year so very,
very bad. But after their dismal 4-28 start, the team has been playing
exponentially more inspired basketball since the return from injury of
former #1 overall pick John Wall (plus some other dudes), and have now
won seven of their last nine, with all but one of those seven wins
coming against teams currently in line for the post-season. This may or
may not be sustainable enough to catch the Sixers from 4.5 back, but I
certainly know which team I would bet on when they face off this Sunday.



Chance of Out-Tanking: Surprisingly good

Probably Not Gonna Happen: Cavaliers, Kings, Suns, Magic, Bobcats

Ultimately,
I'd say three of these teams will probably pass the Sixers before
season's end, with the return of TFLKWTBH obviously being a very big
variable in either direction. That would leave the Sixers 8th in the
lottery standings, which sounds about right to me. You guys good with
getting the 8th pick this year? I could certainly talk myself into it.

Sixers' future payroll: Flexibility, Robert Covington prioritized over Nerlens Noel

Sixers' future payroll: Flexibility, Robert Covington prioritized over Nerlens Noel

As the Sixers were expending all of their energy Monday night trying to stay with the 50-9 Warriors, Nerlens Noel was down in Dallas contributing to a Mavericks win, their second in a row since acquiring him at the trade deadline.

In two games off the bench for the Mavs, Noel has played a combined 55 minutes, scored 15 points with 16 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, made 6 of 11 buckets and 3 of 4 free throws.

He's played crucial minutes down the stretch in both games for Dallas, helping them at the defensive end even on plays in which he doesn't affect a shot. His length, activity and paint-roaming ability is why the Mavs traded Justin Anderson and two second-round picks for a half-season of Noel and his restricted free-agent match rights this summer.

The Noel trade has already been analyzed to death at this point, so this won't be another examination of whether the Sixers got enough in return or what they should have done.

Since the trade was clearly about the contract Noel will receive this summer and the Sixers' unwillingness to allocate so much money to the center position, let's take a look at the Sixers' finances moving forward.

Next season's payroll
The NBA salary cap spiked to $94 million last offseason and is expected to take a smaller jump to about $100 million this summer.

As of now, the Sixers have $48,077,210 committed to the 2017-18 payroll.

* Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson are due $9 million each.

* Ben Simmons will make just under $6.2 million, and Joel Embiid will make $6.1 million.

* Jahlil Okafor is owed just under $5 million, Nik Stauskas $3.8 million, and Dario Saric $2.4 million.

* Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes and T.J. McConnell will all make between $1 million and $1.6 million.

* And the Sixers will pay $500,000 of dead money to Tibor Pleiss, who they immediately waived after acquiring from the Jazz last August for Kendall Marshall and a swap of second-round picks.

That leaves the Sixers with $52 million to spend.

How will they spend it?
Based on recent history, don't expect the Sixers to spend every last dollar in the offseason. They are focused on improving the team while not crippling its future, and Bryan Colangelo accomplished that goal somewhat this season by signing Henderson and acquiring Ersan Ilyasova early in the season.

The Bayless signing did not work out this year -- he's out for the season with a wrist injury -- but he's on the books the next two years at $9 million a pop.

Expect to see those kinds of moves made by the Sixers, unless they're able to identify a free agent young enough, good enough, and enough of a fit to sign to a long-term deal.

Guys who might potentially fit that description?

* Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of the Pistons
* Otto Porter of the Wizards
* Tim Hardaway Jr. of the Hawks
* Ian Clark of the Warriors
* Jrue Holiday of the Pelicans
* Jeff Teague of the Pacers (maybe)

Clark, Holiday and Teague are unrestricted free agents; the others are restricted. So if the Sixers were to offer KCP or Porter $80 million over four years, the Pistons and Wizards would have the opportunity to match. If they do, the Sixers wouldn't get them.

Of course, those teams would have to have enough money to re-sign them. That's where the Sixers' ample payroll space comes into play.

KCP and Porter seem like locks to get max contracts in the $20 million-plus per year range. Holiday and Teague may or may not get that much; it will be determined by how the point-guard market plays out.

Clark and Hardaway Jr. would require lesser commitments because they're currently role players with the potential to grow into more.

Joel Embiid's inevitable extension
The Sixers are going to need to max out Embiid in the near future. Although he's played only 31 games in three NBA seasons, those three years count contractually.

The last guaranteed year of Embiid's rookie contract is next season. After that, he's a lock to make $25 million per year, provided he's healthy. 

In similar positions, C.J. McCollum got $106 million over four years from the Blazers, and Hassan Whiteside got $98 million over four years from the Heat.

The Sixers could sign Embiid to such an extension before Oct. 31, 2017, but it wouldn't go into effect until the 2018-19 season. 

Looking ahead to 2018-19
Two seasons from right now.

The eventual Embiid max contract will not cripple the Sixers financially. They'll still have a lot of wiggle room.

Why? Because of how few long-term commitments they have. 

For example, Henderson makes $9 million next season but is then a free agent. So if Embiid gets $25 million per year, the net is $16 million of additional payroll once you account for Henderson's expiring deal.

If the Sixers trade Jahlil Okafor between now and 2018, that would trim $6.3 million more from their 2018-19 payroll.

So, looking ahead to 2018-19, the Sixers would have $55 million committed to Embiid (max deal), Bayless, Simmons, Okafor, Saric, Anderson, TLC, Holmes and McConnell.

Missing from that equation is Covington, who will be an unrestricted free agent that summer. If Covington keeps playing like he has, racking up steals, hitting threes, improving in the lane and defending the best perimeter player every night, he's going to be in line for a contract in the $15 million per year range.

So, for the sake of logic, let's add Covington's $15 million to that 2018-19 payroll and subtract Okafor's. That would put the Sixers at about $64 million of payroll commitments two years from now, leaving them around $36 million to $40 million of cap space to sign free agents.

In 2018, the Sixers theoretically will be closer to actually contending, and free agents will be more realistic and meaningful. 

This is why the Sixers traded Ilyasova, for example. He's a free agent this summer and could command an annual salary in the $12M to $15M range given the scarcity of available stretch-fours. If the Sixers kept him and re-signed him, they might not have enough money down the road to pay Covington, a younger and more important player.

That 2018 free-agent class is not extremely appealing -- it's highlighted by Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, Chris Paul, Paul Millsap, Greg Monroe, Derrick Favors, Avery Bradley and C.J. Miles.

A few of those guys, like Thomas, won't even reach free agency -- they'll be extended ahead of it.

Mentioning that only to point out that the Sixers' options in free agency this summer might be better than their options next summer.

So ... did they need to trade Noel?
Some think Noel is going to get $20 million per year in free agency. 

I personally think his contract will be more in the $17 million per year range, a figure in between the annual average salaries for Timofey Mozgov ($16M), Tristan Thompson ($16.4M), Joakim Noah ($18M) and Ryan Anderson ($20M).

In any event, it's going to be a pricey contract for Noel.

So, how would a contract of say, four years, $68 million for Noel have affected the future payroll numbers laid out above?

It would mean that with Embiid's max deal, with Covington re-signed to a higher number, with Noel here and with Okafor traded, the Sixers would have around $79 million committed to payroll, leaving them about $20 million free to spend.

That would be enough for one really good-but-not-great player. Or they could try to creatively move a few contracts and line themselves up for a great player. 

But consider then that in 2018-19, Ben Simmons will be in the position Embiid is in now. Simmons would be in the third year of his rookie deal and eligible for a max extension before Oct. 31 of that year.

The numbers just do not add up.

I hated the Noel trade because I thought they should have gotten more, but dealing him did indeed make financial sense.

If the Sixers chose to keep Noel and re-sign him, they could have had a 2018-19 core of: Embiid, Simmons, Saric, Noel, Covington, Holmes, McConnell, TLC, and either a few mid-tier free agents or one star.

That could be a solid core if everyone continues developing at their own rate and if Embiid and Simmons can stay on the court ... but the Sixers wouldn't have many options. The goal is a championship and that probably isn't a championship core.

The $17 million or so of savings from not keeping Noel will be very important then. 

In a way, the Sixers essentially chose Covington over Noel.

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'In on' Alshon Jeffery

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'In on' Alshon Jeffery

Ian Rapoport for the NFL Network reports the Chicago Bears are not expected to place the franchise tag on free-agent wide receiver Alshon Jeffery before the March 1 deadline. Meanwhile, league sources previously told Jason La Canfora for CBS Sports that they “anticipate” the Eagles “being in on” Jeffery should the 2013 Pro Bowler become accessible.

Put two and two together, and there are folks around the NFL who believe the Eagles will pursue Jeffery when free agency opens on March 9.

Yet while receiver is one of the Eagles’ two greatest needs this offseason, whether they should make a run at Jeffery and whether they can afford him might be two different answers. Getting another weapon for Carson Wentz seems like it will be the top priority in free agency, but doing so will not be cheap, and the club is up against the salary cap.

There’s little doubt the Eagles will reach out to Jeffery. Aside from the organization being known for always doing its due diligence with players, the 27-year-old is hands down the best option on the market. Over the 2013 and ’14 seasons, Jeffery averaged 87 receptions, 1,277 yards and 8.5 touchdowns per year. He’s dealt with injuries and a terrible supporting cast in the two years since, yet still managed to go over 800 yards receiving in each.

Jeffery has some baggage, specifically the four-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy in 2016. Despite everything, only nine active players are averaging more than his 72.2 yards per game, and only 10 better than 15.0 yards per reception. The talent is undeniable, and with a quarterback of Wentz’s caliber throwing him the football, the sky is the limit.

The Eagles absolutely should pursue Jeffery. Actually signing him is where this begins to get tricky.

For starters, the Eagles are currently sitting at an estimated $9.69 million under the cap, according to OverTheCap.com. Only three teams are in worse shape. There may be more moves to free up space in the coming days, which will help, although even if they get that figure closer to $25 million through a series of trades and releases, the numbers are tight.

Jeffery collected $14.6 million under the franchise tag in ’16, and while he might not see quite that much annually on his next contract, it’s not out of line with expectations. Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant are all making $14 million or more per season. Jeffery may not have the body of work of those players, but as the top receiver available, the market will value him and be willing to pay as such.

That $25 million the Eagles can theoretically free up might be the best case scenario. It likely won’t be that, which means signing Jeffery would take up practically all of their cap space for ’17. Obviously, there are ways to structure a contract to push money into future years, and the case could be made the Eagles don’t need to sign any other free agents.

No matter how you slice it, there are some logistical concerns here. Until the Eagles shed some of those contracts and we can see what they’re working with, it’s difficult to envision how they win a bidding war against suitors with upwards of $50, $60, even $70 million to spend.

It’s not so much a question of interest for the Eagles. It’s whether or not signing Jeffery is realistic in the first place.

Rating the Rumor: We’ll see