Why a Trade Must be a Part of the Sixers Offseason

NBA: MAR 01 76ers at Clippers
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 01: Philadelphia 76ers Guard Shake Milton (18) celebrates with Philadelphia 76ers Forward Al Horford (42) during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on March 1, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

With Doc Rivers officially set as the new coach of the Sixers, there seems to be a renewed sense of optimism surrounding the team. Despite a depressing first-round playoff exit this year, a criminal job by the front office of building a team, and little money to work with- the Sixers are not that far off from climbing back into the championship conversation next year.

Along with just about everything else with next year’s NBA season, the salary cap is still fairly up in the air. The CBA had projected the salary cap to be set at $115 million with the luxury tax threshold at $139 million for the 20-21 season. However this number was established before the COVID-19 lockdown and with there still being uncertainty surrounding the possibility of fans being in attendance next year, it is possible this number ends up being even lower.

Sixers Cap Situation

Without making any roster changes, the Sixers will already be over the cap limit going into next season. There is over $140 million on the books for next year just for returning players on the active roster. This includes the obvious long-term deals of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford along with Josh Richardson, Mike Scott, Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, and Furkan Korkmaz.

While for the most part, these are guys the team should be happy to have locked up long-term, it leaves little wiggle room for Elton Brand to find additional players. The idea of adding guys like Fred Van Fleet, Davis Bertans, and Joe Harris is extremely appealing (and they would no doubt bring a lot to the team) but it is likely the team will not have the available money to make these deals happen.

Dancing around the cap is a skill that is necessary for all GMs if they are to be successful. There are many exceptions that can be made in order to get a player signed and the NBA is considered a “soft” cap because of this. The “taxpayer mid-level exception” is particularly appealing and that would give the Sixers a chance to offer a contract worth over $5 million which should land a legitimate bench piece. But while adding a key bench piece would make a difference, there is simply not enough available money to make significant enough roster changes in free agency that the team needs.

Al Horford

Without sugarcoating it, Al Horford makes the 76ers a worse basketball team by simply being on it. With Joel Embiid and Al Horford on the court, this season the team had a net rating of -1.3 points per 100 possessions. On the entire season, the team registered a net rating of 2.3. The clunky fit next to Embiid has been put on full display and was largely the reason for career-low numbers and disappointing season result.

As it stands, Horford will continue to soak in the remainder of the 4-year $109 million contract that sucks up 21.52% of the cap space for the next 3 seasons. It has been well established how much of a failure this deal has been for the Sixers and it is a tough mistake to correct.

Given the rules for salaries matching up for a trade, the max contract on an aging 34-year-old will not make it easy for him to find a new home. But if there is a way to get Horford in another uniform next season, Elton Brand should not hesitate. This clogging of cap space for a player who rightfully was benched by the end of last season is something that could cripple a franchise. Even dishing Horford for an over the hill player riding a max contract could be beneficial if it has fewer years remaining- as this money will be cleared up sooner.

Without finding a trade partner, the Sixers will be left to swallow the remaining 3 years on Horford’s contract. They will be stuck vastly overpaying for the big man and without the available budget to find a better fitting player.

Final Thoughts

It is not fully a necessity to make sure Horford is the guy traded, but if this offseason goes by without some sort of noteworthy trade it should be considered a failure. Even a smaller deal that could land better fitting role players could make a major impact on the team. Outside of a trade, the Sixers have the 21st overall pick in the draft and limited cap space to work with. The amount of reshaping that the roster will require to be successful next year will take an additional move beyond this.

When Elton Brand stepped to the presser at the beginning of this offseason he boldly claimed “I’m looking forward to putting my stamp on this thing and take full accountability for whatever happens next.” It will never be clear who is actually calling the shots in the front office but lets hope Brand actually gets the voice in the organization that he seems to desire. The hiring of Doc Rivers was a great start to the offseason but there is no coach that could have taken last year’s roster to a championship so the priority need to be shifted to solving this problem.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire