Players on expiring contracts aren’t the golden tickets that they used to be. That’s because of the 2011 CBA, which added the stretch provision and the amnesty clause, and made it harder for general managers to make shortsighted long-term investments.
But these contracts still have value. That’ll be especially true come next February’s trade deadline, when teams are looking to shed salary so they can open cap space and participate in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes.
So given that, why would the value-obsessed Sixers waive a player in JaVale McGee, who had a big, fat $12 million deal that would’ve been off the books after 2015-16? He’s the type of piece that could’ve helped, say, the New Orleans Pelicans get out of that Tyreke Evans contract and free up room for a high-profile free agent. Why pay him in full to go away?
Well, first off, McGee isn’t good. He’s tall and supposedly talented — maybe he’ll figure it out one day — but it was decided that he wasn’t worthy of minutes and a roster spot on one of the NBA’s worst teams.
There’s also the Sixers’ explanation: They wanted to make him eligible to join a postseason roster. While Sam Hinkie might not be all that concerned about McGee’s desires to play on a contender, the Sixers GM has incentive to build goodwill with McGee’s agent, B.J. Armstrong of the Wasserman Media Group. Jerami Grant, locked into a team-friendly deal, is a client of Armstrong, while the agents for Joel Embiid (Arn Tellem), Tony Wroten (Gregory Lawrence), and Arsalan Kazemi (Lawrence), all belong to the Wasserman Media Group, per DraftExpress. Get greedy with McGee, and there could be consequences down the road.
But the biggest reason (I suspect) the Sixers didn’t hold onto McGee is that they have zero intention of tying up any of their cap space beyond next season. Again, as unproductive as McGee is, he — err, his contract — could have had some value at the 2015 deadline. It might’ve even been worth a late first-round pick.
But for the Sixers to have gotten something back for McGee, they would’ve had to take on a player who was signed beyond 2015-16. Assuming they do in fact want to contend, that player would’ve limited their flexibility in 2016. That’s a real, cap-related cost.
The Sixers don’t have anything significant on their books after 2015-16. There’s the approximately $980K to Grant, the $1.02M to Robert Covington, the $4.83M team option for Embiid, the $4.38M TO to Nerlens Noel, the $1.02M TO to Hollis Thompson, the $980K to JaKarr Sampson, the $2.8M TO to Furkan Aldemir, the $1.22 qualifying option to Isaiah Canaan, and the $3.20M QO to Tony Wroten, per spotrac. That’s about $21M if they kept all of them.
Add in Dario Saric, the 2015 lottery pick, the cap hold for the 2016 first-rounder, the Miami pick, the OKC pick, the LAL pick, and all the second rounders, and they’ll still be hovering around $40M. Due to the new television deal, the cap is expected to increase to upwards of $90M in 2016-17. The Sixers could sign a big-name free agent this summer (Jimmy Butler, anyone?), and still have enough room for a max contract and more in 2016.
This is a good spot for the Sixers to be in. Durant is a longshot, but if he wants to go to an East Coast team that’s not the recently dysfunctional Wizards, and not run by a crazy billionaire, then the presumably up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers (located two hours away from his hometown) would be a logical option. He could even convince one of his star buddies to come along. The Sixers will have the space and the assets to make that happen.
But this isn’t about Durant. It’s about the Sixers being in position to acquire a player of (or approaching) Durant’s caliber. There aren’t many of those around, and when they are, it takes a lot of luck to bring them in. Take the Rockets, for example. They failed to get Dwight Howard the first time around and got screwed out of Pau Gasol. This summer they whiffed on Chris Bosh, who said he didn’t want the championship pressure. But they eventually hit. In 2012, they were able to take advantage of cheap Thunder ownership by dealing an assortment of prospects and draft picks for James Harden. In 2013, they signed Howard to a four-year, $88M deal after he left the Lakers.
On the flip side, there’s Dan Gilbert and the Cavaliers. They did everything in their power to keep the best player in the world from returning to his hometown. But because they won a couple of lotteries, Dwyane Wade broke down, and LeBron loves Cleveland, the King came back. The lesson here is that star acquisition is a crapshoot, particularly in free agency.
But the Sixers are taking control of the things they can — like keeping their cap empty and their asset collection full — so that they can make a play at the next big name. Maybe it’ll be Durant. Maybe it’ll be DeMarcus Cousins. Maybe Anthony Davis. Maybe Russell Westbrook. Whoever the star is, the Sixers will want him. If that feeling is mutual, a bad long-term contract won’t get in the way of him landing in Philadelphia.