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How The Sixers Manipulated The NBA Salary Cap This Offseason



How The Sixers Manipulated The NBA Salary Cap This Offseason

The 2024 NBA offseason might have been Philadelphia 76ers president Daryl Morey’s masterpiece.

With the patience of star center Joel Embiid getting tested, Morey was under pressure to deliver an offseason that cemented the Sixers as championship contenders. Headlined by the signing of nine-time All-Star forward Paul George in free agency, he appears to have done exactly that.

The Sixers are currently tied with the Denver Nuggets at +850 to win the 2024-25 NBA title, trailing only the defending champion Boston Celtics (+300) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (+750), per FanDuel Sportsbook.

As teams across the NBA began to cut costs thanks to the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, the Sixers were lined up with more than $60 million in salary-cap space to spend. They wound up spending it on George, Caleb Martin and Andre Drummond before re-signing Kelly Oubre Jr. with the room mid-level exception and signing All-Star point guard Tyrese Maxey to a five-year, maximum-salary extension.

The Sixers had to line up their moves in a specific way this summer, all thanks to Maxey’s decision to bypass signing an extension last offseason. Because he did so, he carried a cap hold of only $13.0 million, which is well below the $35.1 million starting salary on his new max extension.

Had Maxey signed an extension last offseason, his new starting salary would have been on the Sixers’ books when the new league year began. Since he waited, the Sixers were allowed to keep his $13.0 million cap hold on their books, spend the rest of their cap space and then use their Bird rights to sign him to a max extension. In essence, they manufactured an extra $22 million in spending power, which gave them enough cap space to sign George and round out the supporting cast with Martin and Drummond.

That strategy was not without risk for Morey and the Sixers. For one, free-agent and trade targets began flying off the board in the days before free agency officially began. If the Sixers were adamant about adding a third star this summer—which they were, by all accounts—George was by far the best remaining option.

Had the Sixers struck out on him, they might have been forced to pivot to New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram, Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine or free agent DeMar DeRozan, who later got sign-and-traded to the Sacramento Kings. None of them would have moved the needle in the same way that George projects to.

While Maxey’s cap hold was the key to the Sixers’ offseason, it wasn’t the only creative way that they manipulated their cap space. Caleb Martin’s new contract is proof of that.

The Sixers signed Martin to a four-year deal that includes $35 million of guaranteed money and an additional $5.25 million in unlikely-to-be-earned incentives. The incentives aren’t factored into his cap hit this offseason, but they are included when calculating the Sixers’ proximity to the first and second aprons. By structuring Martin’s contract this way, the Sixers had just enough cap space to fit him in after signing George and Drummond while keeping Ricky Council IV’s non-guaranteed contract and KJ Martin’s $2.1 million cap hold on their books.

The Sixers have yet to re-sign KJ Martin, but they notably haven’t renounced their rights to him, either. There’s no reason for them to renounce him now that they’re now well over the salary cap. Instead, they figure to sign him to a short-term, big-money contract—likely a two-year deal with the second year non-guaranteed—with the intention of using him as salary filler in a midseason trade.

Much like with Maxey, the Sixers have full Bird rights on Martin, which is why they’re allowed to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him. They could give him anything up to his maximum salary ($35.1 million), although they’ll have to be mindful of salary-matching rules in trades, particularly since teams over the first or second apron aren’t allowed to take back more salary than they send out.

The Sixers aren’t hard-capped at either apron at the moment, although they project to be right around the first apron once they fill out the rest of their roster. If they decide to give Martin a short-term balloon deal, they’ll likely aim to stay below the second apron ($188.9 million), as teams above that threshold also aren’t allowed to aggregate contracts in trades. Unless they have a specific trade target in mind, finding an exact dollar-for-dollar match for Martin could be tricky.

The Sixers might have set some long-term plans in place this offseason, too. They signed Oubre to a two-year, $16.3 million contract with a second-year player option. If Oubre declines that option, the Sixers could offer him a four-year, $62.6 million contract via their Early Bird rights. That’s $2 million more than the projected non-taxpayer mid-level exception over the same span.

If the Sixers do re-sign Oubre to a bigger deal next summer, they figure to be around or above at least the first apron. Depending on what they do with KJ Martin, they could be a second-apron team moving forward. It’s nearly impossible to go from $60-plus million in cap space to that over the span of a year, but the Sixers might pull it off.

It took at least a year of planning if not more, considering the Sixers also just reset the clock on the repeater tax by staying below the luxury-tax line each of the past two seasons. They won’t be subject to the repeater tax until 2027-28 at the earliest, while the defending champion Celtics could be facing an NBA-record $450 million payroll and tax bill in 2025-26 because of it.

There’s no guarantee that these moves result in a championship, but the Sixers at least maximized their salary-cap opportunities this offseason. Trust the process?

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac and salary-cap information via RealGM. All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook.

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