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July 02, 2024

The fate of Paul Reed’s contract is the last major domino in the Sixers’ franchise-altering summer

The final major decision that looms for the Sixers this summer is what do with Paul Reed's non-guaranteed contract.

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

The Sixers have a tough decision to make with Paul Reed.

The Sixers accomplished their main objectives in just the first 24 hours or so of NBA free agency: 

• they secured a four-year commitment from nine-time All-Star Paul George — giving them the additional star they desperately craved
• they agreed to a five-year deal with Tyrese Maxey
• they re-signed Kelly Oubre Jr. on a one-year deal with a player option for a second season at a reasonable cost
• they stabilized their volatile backup center position by bringing Andre Drummond back to Philadelphia, also on a one-year deal with a player option for a second season
• they nabbed veteran sharpshooter Eric Gordon on a veteran’s minimum deal, giving head coach Nick Nurse a reliable rotation piece who can be utilized creatively on the offensive end of the floor

One key piece of business remains for the Sixers, and that is finding a fifth starter who can round out a unit so far composed of Joel Embiid, Maxey, George and Oubre. Gordon could conceivably slot into the starting lineup if required, but the Sixers likely envision him as a reserve — and should be seeking someone with more size in that spot. 

With a point guard, two athletic wings and a center entrenched in the starting five, the Sixers need someone who can credibly defend power forwards to put the finishing touches on their opening night lineup. Given the dynamic offensive talents of their three stars, they can easily justify slotting a low-usage, defensive-oriented player into that role, as long as the player is capable of knocking down open looks from beyond the arc.

Believe it or not, the key to finding that pivotal fifth starter is the contract of Paul Reed.

Reed, who has two non-guaranteed years left under contract, is slated to make about $15 million over the course of the remainder of his deal. While Reed has been a notable upgrade at backup center relative to what the Sixers had behind Embiid for many years, the team bringing Drummond back into the fold indicates his time as Embiid’s primary backup has come to an end. 

The Sixers’ third center slot is possibly more important than that of any other NBA team due to the frequency with which Embiid misses games, but even then, it would likely be a misappropriation of resources for the team to keep Reed heading into the season. As a young player with excellent athletic tools who has been a productive backup on good teams with two years left on a very team-friendly contract, Reed should have value on the open market. The Sixers should be able to exchange him for a rotation player who better fits what their roster needs, or a few second-round picks that they can add to their collection in hopes of facilitating a deal for a quality contributor down the line.

Option No. 1: Keep Reed on the roster

In a vacuum, there is a solid argument that this is the smartest path: again, the Sixers need their third center to be a viable rotation piece, and despite his flaws, Reed’s athleticism, defensive versatility and motor make him more than competent as a backup center. If the Sixers held onto Reed for the time being, they could always decide to move him at a later date and he could help facilitate a deal during the regular season. But when the financial considerations of this decision are taken into account, it becomes much harder to justify.

The Sixers have six open roster spots as things stand now — that could become five if the team signs second-round pick Adem Bona to a standard NBA deal rather than a two-way contract — and if they keep Reed on the roster, they very well could have to sign veteran’s minimum deals to fill out all of those roster spots. There is no getting around that the Sixers will be a bit top-heavy when the season begins — and there are certain benefits to this form of roster construction — but they could be looking at a situation in which more than half of their roster is made up of players on minimum or near-minimum deals.

Reed would instantly become an elite third-string center, to be sure, but that is likely not worth the team imposing on itself such significant financial constraints in terms of piecing together the remainder of its roster. 

Option No. 2: Trade Reed for draft pick(s)

The Sixers are likely not going to receive a first-round pick from anybody for Reed, but his athletic and statistical profiles warrant significant value in terms of second-round capital. Whether it is one premium second-round pick — perhaps one that will convey in the next year or two which belongs to a team projected to finish near the bottom of the standings — and maybe an additional distant second-rounder on top of that, or something in the ballpark of three second-rounders which vary in both year and value, it is hard to believe the team cannot fetch some sort of compensation for Reed, even if it is not quite commensurate with his true trade value.

MORE: 5 teams who could trade for Paul Reed

If the Sixers made this move, they would still have five or six roster spots to fill, but their cap space would catapult to around $9 million, which could potentially enable them to acquire one surefire contributor or two fringe rotation players either via trade or free agency.

Option No. 3: Trade Reed and take on salary

Because teams like the Sixers that are below the tax apron are allowed to take back a certain amount of more money than they send out in a trade, it is conceivable that the team uses Reed and his salary to step up to a more expensive piece. Dealing Reed on his own would enable the team to absorb a maximum of somewhere between $14-$15 million in salary. The most likely move here would be to add one player in the $10-14 million range, as most teams are not prepared to part with two rotation-caliber players at once in a deal that does not net them a star, though if Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey got creative, he could perhaps put together a three-team trade where two different teams send the Sixers players who they have deemed expendable, with those players’ salaries combining to fit into that $14 million or so range.

If the Sixers made a move of this kind, they would likely be restricted to exclusively signing minimum deals to fill out the remainder of their roster, but it might be worth doing if they can add a quality fifth starter to their roster to finish off what has the potential to be one of the most productive lineups in the NBA.

Option No. 4: Trade Reed for a cheaper player

If the Sixers did this it would likely not be for a fifth starter — players who make below $7 million and are capable of starting for a very good team are generally not available — but they could certainly add someone who has a clearer path to consistent playing time than Reed, likely as either a serviceable ball-handler or innings-eater on the wing. 

The team’s remaining cap space would not quite reach the $9 million mark, but the Sixers would likely have enough — depending on the actual salary of the player they receive — to sign or trade for one rotation-caliber player with their remaining salary before filling out the rest of the team with minimum deals.

In today’s salary cap environment, teams like the Sixers with three max players on their books must continue to hit on inexpensive contributors — that includes players on minimum deals, but also ones on rookie contracts who can conceivably continue to improve as time goes on. The Sixers have Jared McCain entering a four-year rookie scale deal with two guaranteed seasons, Ricky Council IV on a deal resembling the infamous “Hinkie Special” contracts given out by the team’s controversial General Manager and could ink Bona to a multi-year deal at a minuscule cost. Adding another inexpensive piece with a chance to develop under Nurse and his staff to that group would not be the worst idea.

Option No. 5: Waive Reed

This would certainly be a gut punch for the Sixers, who believe Reed is a positive-value asset and should be considered just that league-wide. But if the team’s valuation of Reed’s value is not commensurate with that of the remainder of the NBA and no other team is even interested in sending a second-round pick or two for a definite NBA player on a non-guaranteed deal, there is a real case that the prudent move would be to waive one of the team’s foremost fan favorites, a player whose nickname happens to closely resemble the name of the sport they play.

This is another move that does not feel right in a vacuum, but when taking greater context into account becomes easier to justify. Would the Sixers rather have Reed, superfluous as their third-string center, and ink even more minimum deals than they are already comfortable signing because of it, or waive him and generate around $9 million in cap space to facilitate the acquisition of one or two players who actually fill needs that the team currently has? Unfortunately for BBall Paul, the answer would likely be the latter.

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