In the midst of a miserable season, you’d be forgiven for abandoning all hope about the Sixers. There’s reason for long-term optimism, however, and it goes far beyond the potential acquisition of the New Orleans Pelicans’ 2014 first-round pick.
By trading away Jrue Holiday and letting Andrew Bynum walk this past offseason, GM Sam Hinkie wiped the Sixers’ books clean. Thaddeus Young, who could be shipped out before the trade deadline, is the team’s highest-paid player at $8.6 million in 2013-14. The remaining spots are filled by short-term, cap-friendly contracts.
Here’s a look at the cap situation for the 2014-15 season1 (assuming Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen are gone):
|Jason Richardson||$6,601,125||Player Option|
|Sixers 2014 first-round pick||$4,000,000||Unguaranteed|
|Pelicans 2014 first-round pick||$2,000,000||Unguaranteed|
Per ESPN salary cap expert Larry Coon, the league’s projected cap line for 2014-15 is $62.1 million, which gives the Sixers about $28 million in cap space when free agency commences on July 1.
That’s more space than any other team, barring any major surprises between now and the offseason (trades, unexpected opt-outs, etc.). Here’s a look at their potential offseason competition (excluding rookie salaries), keeping in mind that the Jazz, Suns, Bobcats, and Magic all may have extra first-round picks:
|Team||Likely 2014-15 Cap Commitments||Projected 2014 Cap Space|
|Los Angeles Lakers||$36,360,710||$25,739,290|
Now, just because the Sixers will have available cap space doesn’t mean that they’ll be making a major free-agent splash. Hinkie could always replicate his strategy from 2013: pretend free agency doesn’t start until mid-August. (One Sixers source suggested to Liberty Ballers’ Michael Levin that it will be “a while” before the team lures a big-name free agent.)
But don’t assume we’re headed for a 2013 free agency repeat. Having upwards of $30 million in cap space opens up a myriad of options for the diabolical genius known as Hinkie. The Sixers could be on the receiving end of a salary dump (a la the Utah Jazz acquiring Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins in 2013), choosing to sacrifice short-term cap space for a bevy of draft picks. They could also drive up the price on a restricted free agent (Eric Bledsoe? Gordon Hayward? Greg Monroe? Lance Stephenson?) to force a competitor into a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t decision.
With the Sixers sitting 14 games under .500, it’s easy to lose faith in the rebuilding process. But they’re in great shape cap-wise, and that’s half the battle. The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter by the day.
1. Adding the rookie salaries somewhat complicates matters, since we won’t know which picks the Sixers land until the May 20 lottery (only 118 days away!). If the lottery gods smile upon New Orleans and spite Philadelphia, the team would only have one lottery pick; conversely, the Sixers could end up with two top-10 picks if the Pelicans miss the playoffs without striking lottery gold. Assuming the Sixers receive the Pelicans’ pick, the two first-round rookie salaries would combine for about $6 million.
Note: All salary information courtesy of Spotrac.com.