Pretty much since the day he was hired, I’ve been thinking virtually non-stop about how Daryl Morey might view the current iteration of this 76ers team and what his approach might be in terms of adding to (and subtracting from) it. I’m sure many of you have been doing the same. The fun part about our new President of Basketball Operations is that there is a massive track record, as well as public remarks and comments, that offer us some clues. Past behavior isn’t a perfect predictor for future decision making, but it’s a good place to start.
1.) Let’s begin with the Sixers' current cap situation. The Sixers have 11 players under contract for 2020-21 and a current cap figure of around $147M. With the news that the salary cap is going to remain at last season’s $109M figure for this season, and possibly only go up around 2% each season through the rest of the current CBA, that is BAD news for the Sixers (though it would have been much worse had the cap actually gone down). The reality as it stands now, with the tax line at $132M, is that the Sixers are looking at a tax bill of about $30M. While the Sixers ownership clearly greenlit a plan to pay the tax pre-pandemic, the original tax line for 2020-21 was projected at $139M. Meaning the Sixers would’ve only been on the hook for about half of what they’ll be paying now, if the roster remains the same (spoiler alert: it won’t).
2.) So what are the implications of this massive impending tax bill? Keep in mind when the Sixers owners approved a plan to pay approximately $15M in luxury tax next season, they thought they’d have an arena full of fans (remember those season ticket increases?) to fill their coffers. So the reality is that this situation is untenable. And while the ownership has spared no expense in its coaching or front office hires, I believe it is unlikely that they’d go further into the tax at this point, for this season. So unless I’m massively off-base, I’d probably give those Chris Paul trades a break. What’s more likely is that Morey will look to get off a contract like Mike Scott (I’m sorry!) or Zhaire Smith, allowing them to use the Tax Mid-level Exception (MLE) without adding to their luxury tax bill. Would a team with space be willing to just absorb Zhaire or take Scott for a 2nd round pick? I think it’s possible, or they could….
3.) Look to dump Al Horford in a lopsided deal (in terms of salary). It’s a very weird offseason in that only a few teams have significant cap space, but there might be even fewer free agents worth using said cap space on. Is there a world where the Pistons or Hornets would take Al if some draft assets were included? I think the answer is maybe, but my guess is that Philly would still have to take some salary back (hello Tony Snell or Cody Zeller) and give up at least one 1st round pick (goodbye OKC 1st). Based on Daryl’s past, I think it’s more likely he’d rather include two 1sts if it meant getting a more impactful player back. Which brings us to…
4.) Daryl will trade at least two (2) 1st round picks before the season starts. I think the OKC pick is almost certainly a goner, but my guess is they’ll also include their 20211st rounder, which will no longer be bound to The Stepien Rule once the 2020 NBA draft is completed. Zooming out for a second, I think Daryl will believe that it’s important for the Sixers to retain future firsts (2023 and beyond) as that will be the next pivot point for this franchise as Joel Embiid will be due an extension, and the Sixers may need to move Tobias Harris to avoid the repeater tax. Doing this in two years when Tobias has only two years remaining on his deal seems like the most plausible scenario. My guess is that given Daryl’s relationship with the Kings front office, along with this player’s shooting ability and descending salary, Buddy Hield is a target, maybe in a three-way deal. Another under-the-radar trade I’ve been banging the drum on for months is Horford to San Antonio for Patty Mills and Rudy Gay. This wouldn’t provide any immediate salary relief but would provide them with a valuable $15M expiring contract (Gay) to reroute or use at the deadline (while possibly replacing Mike Scott in the interim) and one of the best shooters in the league, who also happens to be able to dribble, and would give Ben an Aussie teammate, which is cool (Mills). With the rumors about LaMarcus Aldridge heating up, the Spurs could do worse than by replacing him with Horford (who is a year younger than LMA) and picking up some assets as well.
5.) The Big Swing: One thing that stuck with me from Morey’s interview on the Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast a few months back was his line, specifically regarding the acquisition of Robert Covington, about his willingness to overpay for a good player on a great contract. This brings me to Zach LaVine. You could also file this under the Morey/Hinkie ethos of "stars hiding in plain sight". I’m not going to get into the empty stats/no defense argument about him. He’s an elite offensive player who will make less than $20M/year the next two seasons. Pay attention to that last part. While 2021 Free Agency will not be quite the bonanza it may have been under a rising cap, many teams have been preparing for it and still will have money to spend. Having a player like LaVine signed through that free agency period would be beneficial and worth overpaying for, as you might have less competition when you’d look to hopefully re-sign him in 2022. Does Josh Richardson + Matisse Thybulle + Scott + 2021 1st round pick get it done? I don’t know, but I bet you Morey tries.
6.) Circling back to Richardson, the Sixers are kind of in a no man’s land situation with him and they’ll have to make a decision before the season starts. One sneaky thing no one really mentions (except I have on Process Potables) is that Josh is extension eligible. It would come in around a 4/$58M if he took the full extension. That seems like fair market value but you have to wonder what Josh thinks about his role here and also the current market conditions this offseason and next. He does have a player option for next year, so he has some protection against another down year. My guess is that Morey first tries to extend him, and if unable to, would look to deal him for a better offensive option.
7.) The Tax-MLE: Any additional dollars the Sixers spend this season with the roster as is will be taxed at $3.25 on the dollar. Meaning using the full tax-MLE would cost the team an additional $20M+ in salary and tax as it stands now. If anyone can find a $20M value player on the tax-MLE, it would be Morey, but that’s asking a lot. I do believe, whether it’s simply a Scott or Zhaire salary dump, or through a more complicated multi-team deal involving Richardson and/or Horford, Morey will reduce the Sixers overall salaries enough to access some or all of the tax-MLE without adding to their luxury tax bill. Expect this to be where the Sixers find their backup center for next season, and don’t be surprised if Morey splits it between two players (or uses part of it to sign their 2nd round picks). Names to watch here might be Langston Galloway, Bryn Forbes or Glenn Robinson III.
8.) Backup Center: I expect to see some experimentation and a slightly different approach to the backup center position with Morey here. He may play it straight and grab an Alex Len on the minimum, but what about a guy like Paul Millsap as a small ball 5? I think the Sixers will be less desperate to try and replace Embiid when he’s on the bench or out for a game with a poor man’s version of Embiid, and look to simply play differently when Embiid isn’t in the game. Don’t expect Daryl to panic about backup center if they deal Al.
9.) Trades! Kind of "burying the lede" here given Morey’s trade activity since becoming a GM in the league. I’ve touched on it a bunch of different ways above, but another thing Daryl has consistently done is look for lottery and draft talent that maybe hasn’t quite panned out yet. Maybe he can take advantage of a bad fit, or a situation where a team doesn’t want to do an extension yet, or won’t be able to afford that player once they get extended. Pay special attention to the 2017 draft class. Luke Kennard, Malik Monk, Lonzo Ball, Derrick White, Josh Hart, and Monte Morris are all worth looking into among others. If you nail it, you’d have restricted rights on the player, and hopefully the cap flexibility to keep them after getting off of Horford. If you miss, hopefully the acquisition cost wasn’t too prohibitive in the first place.
10.) Minimums! Last but not least, Morey has made a career of finding valuable contributors on veteran minimum deals. Keep an eye out for Allen Crabbe, Tyler Johnson, or E’Twaun Moore here. Expect to see at least one valuable contributor next season be on a veteran minimum deal.
So, 1,500 words or so later, this is how I see the Sixers offseason shaping up. It’s beyond exciting to think about all of the possibilities and maybe Daryl will surprise us all with a move none of us see coming, but I believe there are enough breadcrumbs to see what he wants to do over the next few weeks; let’s just hope he’s able to pull it off!