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May 06, 2024

Sixers offseason FAQ: free agent breakdowns, cap space scenarios and more

Following another disappointing playoff elimination, the Sixers once again head into the summer "star-hunting."

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Morey 5.5.24 Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

The 2024 offseason will be crucial for Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey and his front office after the team's first-round playoff exit at the hands of the New York Knicks.

The second round of the NBA Playoffs is underway, and you may have noticed that the Sixers are not going to be participating this year. Their season is over following a 4-2 series defeat against the New York Knicks in one of the most intense first-round series in recent NBA history.

While the eight teams still alive are focused on the hunt for a championship, for Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey and co., the time has come to shift focus towards what will be a crucial offseason as the team attempts to maximize its ability to surround its All-Star duo of Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey with the proper support to return to championship contender status.

There is going to be a whole lot of moving parts once this Sixers offseason gets underway. Let's try to answer any and all questions you may have:

Is there any chance Maxey goes anywhere?

No. While Maxey is by definition going to be a free agent this offseason after not signing an extension before the start of this season, I can assure you he will be remaining in Philadelphia for a very long time. 

To be exact, the league-wide expectation is that the NBA's 2023-24 Most Improved Player will sign a five-year maximum contract.

Technically, once the free agency period begins, Maxey is free to negotiate a contract with any other NBA team. But for two reasons, he will not.

The first is that he is a restricted free agent. This means if Maxey were to sign an offer sheet with any team other than the Sixers, the Sixers would be afforded the opportunity to match the deal. The Sixers would obviously match any offer Maxey signed with another team, so there would not be a point in negotiating at all (not that there are any indications Maxey is not happy to be in Philadelphia to begin with). 

The second reason stems from a rule designed to incentivize players to remain with their teams rather than depart in free agency: when a free agent returns to their team, if they sign a maximum contract it can go for as long as five years. Any contract a free agent signs with a new team, regardless of its average annual value, can only be four years long.

It is essentially a given that Maxey will sign with the Sixers for five years at his maximum salary. There are two questions: first, how much will that actually be? Right now, Maxey's maximum contract would be worth about $205 million, but if he is named to an All-NBA Team for 2023-24, the value of his five-year maximum would balloon to just over $247 million. 

The second key matter at hand is whether Maxey signs a standard five-year deal or one where the fifth year is a player option. The Sixers hope it will be the former, as it would guarantee the team an extra year of Maxey's services, while the All-Star point guard and his camp will likely seek a fifth-year player option to give him the chance to eventually become an unrestricted free agent a year earlier than expected if he chooses to do so. This may sound trivial now, but in reality it is the kind of issue that NBA executives are thinking about every day.

Who do the Sixers have under contract? 

• Embiid is under contract for at least the next two seasons (and has a player option for another season after that). 

• Paul Reed is under contract for the next two seasons, in which he is scheduled to make a total of just over $15.8 million. However, after the Sixers failed to win a playoff series, those two seasons — the final two in a three-year offer sheet Reed signed with the Utah Jazz last summer before the Sixers matched it — are non-guaranteed. For a viable (albeit flawed) backup center with outlier athletic tools who will be entering his age-25 season, that is a deal most teams would likely value, so Reed will likely not be waived. Could he factor into plans the Sixers could have to swing a major trade? That remains to be seen.

• Ricky Council IV is on a non-guaranteed deal near the league minimum, which most expect the Sixers to hang onto in hopes of developing Council into a rotation piece after his noteworthy flashes of potential throughout his rookie season. 

• The team owns a team option on a similarly inexpensive deal for Jeff Dowtin Jr., which they will likely pick up: even if they pick up the team option, Dowtin's salary would not become guaranteed until Jan. 10, 2025, according to Spotrac. 

Who are the Sixers' free agents?

Everybody else!

The team has two restricted free agents in Maxey and two-way guard Terquavion Smith. Everybody from the 2023-24 roster other than those two and the aforementioned players under team control beyond 2023-24 are unrestricted free agents. Those players are:

• Tobias Harris

• Buddy Hield

• Nic Batum

• Robert Covington

• De'Anthony Melton

• Kyle Lowry

• Mo Bamba

• KJ Martin

• Kelly Oubre Jr.

• Cam Payne

What are "Bird rights" and how will they impact the Sixers this summer?

The NBA has a salary cap, but it is not a hard cap like the NFL's. Teams are afforded the opportunity to go over the salary cap, and the vast majority of them end up doing so by the end of the offseason. The biggest reason this happens is because of an essential aspect of free agency: a concept known as Bird rights.

When a team has Bird rights on a player, it means they are allowed to sign them for a certain amount of money without having the requisite cap space. But there are three different levels of Bird rights, which determine how much money a team can offer their free agents. The levels of Bird rights are determined by how long the player has gone without changing teams via free agency (does not apply to players who have been traded). The three types of Bird rights are as follows:

Non-Bird rights, which are for players who have switched teams via free agency in the last year. These players are allowed to be offered up to 120 percent of their salary from the previous season.

Early Bird rights, which are for players who have not switched teams via free agency in the last two years. These players are allowed to be offered up to 175 percent of their salary from the previous season.

• Full Bird rights, which are for players who have not switched teams via free agency for at least three years. Once a team owns Full Bird rights on a player, they can offer that player up to the league's maximum salary regardless of their cap space situation.

Here are the bird rights statuses of each Sixers free agent:

• Harris: Full Bird

• Hield: Full Bird

• Batum: Full Bird

• Covington: Full Bird

• Melton: Full Bird

• Maxey: Full Bird

• Lowry: Non-Bird

• Bamba: Non-Bird

• Martin: Full Bird

• Oubre: Non-Bird

• Payne: Non-Bird

• Smith: Non-Bird

What are "cap holds" and how will they impact the Sixers this summer?

Cap holds are placeholders of sorts on a team's salary cap sheet while their players are free agents. For as long as a player is unsigned, their cap hold remains on their former team's cap sheet at a number somewhere between 120 and 190 percent of their previous salary (depending on their bird rights status). 

When a team wants to clear cap space during free agency, they must perform what is called "renouncing" the cap holds of their free agents. Once the free agents are renounced, their cap holds are extinguished and the team is able to generate cap space. However, if a team renounces a player's cap hold, they lose whatever level of bird rights they previously had on that player — and it is an irreversible action.

For example, Hield's cap hold this summer is expected to be over $29.7 million, according to He will take up that much money against the Sixers' cap space once the offseason begins, but they can clear it off their books by renouncing him. However, if they do that, they go from having Full Bird rights on Hield — a situation in which they can pay him whatever they want — to not having any bird rights on him at all.

What are "salary cap exceptions" and how will they impact the Sixers this summer?

Salary cap exceptions are exactly what they sound like: certain mechanisms with which teams can sign players using cap space they do not actually have. Which exception(s) teams have access to is entirely dependent on their financial situation. For the Sixers' purposes, one pathway seems like the exceedingly likely one.

It has been rumored ever since the team refused to offer James Harden a multi-year contract last summer that the Sixers were plotting to become a "cap space team" in the summer of 2024: they would renounce many of their free agents to maximize their potential room under the salary cap in hopes of acquiring another star-level player. If they do that, they would have access to one salary cap exception in addition to the space they create: the room mid-level exception, which is projected by Spotrac to be worth a hair over $8.0 million in 2024-25. Contracts signed using the room MLE can have a length of up to three seasons.

How much cap space do the Sixers need to afford a maximum contract?

A player's maximum salary in the free agent market is in part dependent on their years of service. The two possible free agents who the Sixers have been linked to in rumors recently are Paul George and LeBron James. Each of those players has at least 10 years of service, and so the first year of a maximum contract for either one starting in 2024-25 is projected by to be worth just over $49.3 million.

If the Sixers hoped to sign someone with anywhere between seven and nine years of service to a maximum contract — like Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby, for example — they would need a projected $42.3 million in cap space in 2024-25. That figure would decline a bit more for a player with six or fewer years of service, but there are almost never maximum contract candidates with such little service time on the free agent market — and there will not be any this summer.

How much cap space can the Sixers realistically create?

If the Sixers were to keep Embiid, Reed, Council and Dowtin on the roster while also holding onto the 16th overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, but renounce the rights to all of their free agents to relieve themselves of their cap holds, estimates they could create just over $65.6 million in cap space — considerably more than enough to sign a maximum contract in free agency and at least one more valuable contributor.

However, this is not exactly how the Sixers will operate, as they cannot renounce Maxey's cap hold — otherwise he would become an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team. So, if the Sixers renounce the cap holds of all of their free agents except for Maxey, they would project to have just over $53.7 million in cap space — still more than enough to sign a maximum deal should they agree to one with a prized free agent like George, James, Siakam or Anunoby.

However, they may not have to renounce all of their cap holds. They will certainly need to rid themselves of that with Harris, which would count at over $49.3 million against their cap space for however long it's on the books. A general rule of thumb here is that a team will likely renounce a player's cap hold if that player is viewed as being worth considerably less money than the hold (and the opposite is true: naturally, teams are unlikely to renounce the cap hold of a player if they want to sign that player to a deal worth more than the hold). But because they were only on veteran's minimum contracts last season, Oubre and Payne have cap holds barely greater than $2.0 million. Martin and Bamba are in the same boat, while Lowry's cap hold is a bit larger but still quite small in the grand scheme of things (just over $3.5 million). 

In case you cannot tell by now, this offseason is going to be incredibly chaotic for Morey and the Sixers.

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