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June 15, 2024

How the Sixers can prepare a major midseason trade during NBA free agency

With only one medium-sized contract currently on the roster, the Sixers may have trouble making a midseason trade in 2024-25. Here is how they can fix that during this summer's free agency.

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Morey 6.13.24 Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey has always been willing to get creative. He will need that sort of outside-the-box thinking this summer.

The Sixers' cap sheet for the 2024-25 season paints a picture that is either exciting or frightening, depending on your perspective. Joel Embiid is their only player with a guaranteed contract already on the books for next year. Take a look:

Player2024-25 salary
Joel Embiid$51,415,938
Paul Reed$7,723,000
No. 16 pick$4,032,240 (projected)
Jeff Dowtin Jr.$2,196,970
Ricky Council IV$1,891,857

Some will find this to be tantalizing -- a sign that Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey has the ability to reshape nearly the entirety of his roster in one summer. Some will fear that performing such a task during one offseason is not a viable path. Both arguments have their merits.

Morey has shown as much as any executive in recent NBA history that making trades is a massive part of team-building, particularly when you are looking to add and then build around star-level talent to assemble a serious championship contender. That does not just mean doing it in the summer -- nearly every great team makes a midseason trade acquisition of some sort that bolsters their roster.

In order to facilitate that kind of move, though, teams typically need at least one medium-sized contract on their books so it is easy to match salaries with opposing teams in trades -- otherwise, a team can only afford to trade for players making relatively little money, significantly narrowing the field of candidates.

This has come back to bite the Sixers many times before. In 2023, the team dealt a declining, yet still valuable piece in Matisse Thybulle, and rather than using other substantial salaries to increase their appetite for a returning veteran, they moved Thybulle in exchange for Jalen McDaniels, who fell out of their rotation by the time the playoffs had ended. In 2022, the team dealt two significant rotation pieces in Seth Curry and Andre Drummond to turn Ben Simmons into James Harden, but could not replace those two key role players because they lacked medium-sized salaries. In 2021, they had to combine three players' salaries just to have enough money cobbled together to acquire George Hill. 

Paul Reed's salary is the only one on the Sixers' books that could even be loosely described as medium-sized, though it is smaller than what would be ideal for a salary filler piece. When Morey, known for his aggressiveness, looks to upgrade the Sixers' roster at next year's NBA Trade Deadline -- regardless of what it actually looks like at that juncture -- he will not have many options.

Unless, that is, he chooses to get creative.

For years, I have advocated for the Sixers to try something that they have rarely done: intentionally overpay a role player with the specific intention of trading them midseason.

Here is how it would work: the Sixers would pick one of their free agent bench players -- if they sign a big fish like Paul George, it would likely have to be KJ Martin for collective bargaining agreement reasons, but if they do not, it could be almost anybody else (Robert Covington might make sense here) -- and give that player a deal where the player would make well above their genuine market value on an annual basis. Starting on Dec. 15, 2024, that player would be eligible to be traded. 

It is not always going to be easy to convince a player to sign a deal like this when the writing is on the wall regarding a trade down the line -- the Sixers would not be inventing this concept; players and agents are familiar with it. But some players will absolutely be willing to sacrifice any semblance of certainty about where they will end the season to attain a considerably larger salary than they would be receiving otherwise.

A source with knowledge of the Sixers' thinking indicated that, as the team looks to maximize its flexibility and optionality moving forward, this concept is indeed something that could be under consideration.

Most of the discussion about the Sixers this summer will surround the bigger names -- their pursuit of George, Tyrese Maxey's eventual five-year contract expected to be worth north of $200 million, potential extension talks for Embiid and more. 

Of course, what the Sixers' roster looks like when the summer ends is crucial. But it is just as vital that they set themselves up to adequately improve their team throughout the 2024-25 season.

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