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July 08, 2023

Should Sixers match Paul Reed's offer sheet from Utah Jazz? Why or why not?

The Sixers must decide how to approach the situation with backup center Paul Reed.

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Sixers-Paul-Reed-76ers_041323_USAT Sam Navarro/USA Today Sports

How much Paul Reed will the Sixers choose to rely on this postseason?

On Saturday morning, the Utah Jazz decided to test the Sixers’ claim that they want to bring Paul Reed back, handing Reed an offer sheet for three years and $23 million according to numerous reports. Philadelphia now has until midnight on Sunday to make a decision, one that carries at least some significance for this season and the future.

So let’s break down the risks of matching (or not matching) Reed’s new offer sheet.

Why the Sixers should match

Reed is a productive young player, has room to grow, and his contract is reasonable for a player of his profile. We could end the explanation with that sentence and I think you’d have a handle on why Sixers fans are asking for their favorite team to match the offer sheet.

There has never been an issue with Reed’s per-minute production, even with the warts he had on defense (namely that he fouls a lot). He is an athletic and active player on a team that didn’t have enough of those players, and while he occasionally plays a bit out of control, Reed went from a complete agent of chaos to a player bought into a role over the span of three seasons. It used to be that Reed would come in for garbage time and just do whatever he seemed to feel like. With time and reps, he found a niche as a roller to the hoop and a glass crasher, and he focused almost exclusively on those things to the delight of his coaches.

Reed has shown tangible improvement the more he has played, which is more important than simply saying, “He’s young.” While it helped to have James Harden feeding him looks, Reed’s field-goal percentage has gone up every year of his career, reaching 59.3 percent in 2022-23 in Reed’s biggest and most impactful year yet. While staying out of foul trouble remains a problem for Reed, the Sixers were able to lean into his defensive versatility more last season, creating switch-heavy lineups that he was essential in. Small-ball lineups with P.J. Tucker at the five were not all that necessary, given that Reed’s switching ability did a lot of what you’d hope for from a Tucker-at-the-five configuration. That defensive versatility could lead you to believe that Reed would be an even better and more essential player under Nick Nurse, a coach with a higher tolerance for chaos than Doc Rivers.

Though Reed has not shown the consistency to be a night-to-night starter, a situation like he has in Philly is arguably the ideal spot for him. It provides him with opportunities as a spot starter when Embiid misses games without overextending Reed. Nurse could look to use him more in double-big lineups, with Reed’s length and nimbleness allowing him to offer decent perimeter defense and length on the weakside in minutes next to Embiid, should the Sixers ever explore them.

And while Reed will have veto rights in trades for a year after matching, his deal will be easily tradable down the road. The reported clause that will guarantee the final two years of his contract shouldn’t cause much hesitation. A young and productive player making less than $8 million per season should be movable at basically any time.

Why the Sixers shouldn’t match

Let’s set aside the cap and tax stuff for a moment and focus on this — carrying four centers on a roster when your best player is a center seems borderline irresponsible. And while I think Reed is the best of that group behind Embiid and the most likely to produce next season, the Sixers have fairly consistently had too many big men on their roster. It is probably past time to rectify that.

While Reed as a four next to Embiid sounds like a fun gadget lineup that Nurse could roll out at some point, the reality is that Reed hasn’t shot basically at all in the NBA, and would be expected to get ignored on offense in favor of crashing toward Embiid. Weaponizing Reed around the dunker spot could mitigate some of those issues, but we have seen how precious spacing has been for the Sixers throughout Embiid’s tenure.

What the Sixers will sell to the public comes down to their future planning — they’re likely to be a tax team this season in all likelihood, but having Reed on the books at between $7-8 million will push them closer to the first apron level this season, and the Sixers would then begin eating into their cap space for next summer. That cap space is important enough that the team already made clear they would not be extending Tyrese Maxey this offseason in an effort to preserve long-term flexibility.

I think it would be tough to argue that you can’t match Reed’s deal as a result of trying to keep cap space open in 2024, as I believe it’s an easily movable deal down the road. But if the Sixers are looking to bring in a max player next offseason, an additional $7+ million on the books could theoretically change what type of max player they can pursue. Max contracts are valued differently depending on the years of experience for the player signing it. Quick overview:

  1. A player with 0-6 years of experience in the NBA has a maximum salary of 25% of the salary cap
  2. A player with 7-9 years of experience has a max salary of 30% of the salary cap
  3. A player with 10+ years of experience has a max salary of 35% of the salary cap

The highest the salary cap can be in 2024-25, based on the parameters laid out in the new collective bargaining agreement, is roughly $149.6 million. A 35% max at that figure is a price point starting at $52.4 million, compared to $44.9 million for a 30% max. In other words, depending on the space the Sixers create elsewhere — with expiring contracts, trades, rights relinquishing, etc. — Reed being on the books could be the difference between shopping in any tier of max players vs. a more limited set of players.

(Whether that actually matters in practice is another story — the pool of 10+ year vets worth a 35% max tends to be tiny.)

In any case, the reasons to keep Reed seem more important to the immediate future of the team, while the reasons not to match are all about what the Sixers might theoretically do in the years to come. It’s up to the franchise to plan for both, but it will be a tough sell if they let Reed get away for a fairly small price point.

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