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May 20, 2019

Sixers wing James Ennis declines player option, leaving both sides with choices to make

The winner of Philadelphia's midseason "tournament" could be heading for greener pastures. As first reported by The Athletic's Shams Charania, Sixers wing James Ennis has decided to decline his player option for the 2019-20 season, which will make him an unrestricted free agent this summer.

It is not as critical as the decisions in front of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris this summer, but it's an important move all the same. Ennis emerged as the team's sixth-best player down the stretch, providing Philadelphia with a little bit of everything on a dirt-cheap salary.

That last bit is important, as the Sixers contemplate the idea of becoming a luxury tax team this offseason. Sixers owner Joshua Harris reaffirmed the team's commitment to paying what's necessary to build a title contender during exit interviews last week, suggesting money will not be an obstacle.

As teams climb over the salary-cap limit and into the luxury tax, the options to fill out the bench are much more limited, obviously. And while Ennis' cheap salary made him an attractive deadline acquisition, that low salary may hurt Philadelphia this summer.

Because they acquired him via trade and had him on their books to end the year, the Sixers have what are called "non-Bird Rights" on Ennis. The name for the designation is misleading because it does give them a form of rights — the Sixers can offer Ennis a maximum of 120 percent of his previous salary to begin his next contract. However since his 2018-19 cap number ($1.6 million) was so low, it doesn't allow you to give him much of a raise. If the plan for Ennis was to come back under those terms, you would question why he opted out in the first place.

With his play down the stretch on a high-profile team, you would assume a less cap-starved team would be willing to give Ennis a bit more money or security through years than the Sixers can. If they see fit to bring him back, it would likely mean they have to dip into one of their salary cap exceptions to do so.

That's where Philadelphia's murky summer complicates matters. If they're a taxpayer team with Butler and Harris back in the fold, is Ennis the best player they can use some (or all) of the mid-level exception on? Is continuity worth more to them than taking a swing on the upside of another player? Hard questions to answer from where we sit today.

On Ennis' side of things, more than money has to be taken into consideration, of course. Unless someone pays through the teeth to bring him on board, there's a case to be made that the stability and role offered in Philadelphia is more beneficial to him than taking a marginally bigger salary elsewhere. Ennis was asked to do more for the Sixers than the Rockets allowed him to do as part of the James Harden show, and he was able to show off parts of his game that were muted at his previous stop. If they give him enough years, perhaps the financial difference doesn't matter as much.

Ennis was also able to establish relationships in a good locker room here in Philly, including with Ben Simmons, who would be the man tasked with finding him for open looks more often than not.

"That's definitely one of my closest friends on this team," Simmons said of Ennis at his exit interview. "He has that hustle, that grind, and that determination. He plays like a dog out there so I got a lot of respect for him in that way. And then off the court, we've bonded a lot, just our friendship and we have grown a lot closer since he's been here, so I got a lot of love for him too."

Both sides would benefit from pairing up again next season. Whether they can make the money work is another story.

MORE: Can Ben Simmons' brother teach him how to shoot? The Sixers hope so

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