Evaluating the Sixers’ Salary Cap

The Philadelphia 76ers went all-in this summer after acquiring All-Star Al Horford and Josh Richardson. The team finally has their core solidified moving forward. 

It’s almost a relief for fans – and Brett Brown I’m sure – that the team finally has committed to a group of core players. We saw the team go through three iterations of itself in one season.

Now, things have fully changed. The team has the starting five locked up for the next four seasons (outside of Josh Richardson) and has committed a large amount of money. This type of situation can end up being a gift or a curse, so let’s dive into the Sixers’ salary cap and break down some key points.

Below I have put the team’s salary specified with any options and/or specifics. You can find this graphic (along with any other teams’) on Early Bird Rights; a great tool for any NBA diehard:

The Obvious

It seems like a lot of money because it is a lot of money, even in NBA standards. The 76ers committed over $106 million to their starting five for this upcoming season, and that’s before Ben Simmons’ max extension kicks in (then it balloons to $131 million).

The NBA has been a growing league in salary for the past few years, so big numbers aren’t an anomaly. It takes a large amount of money to win in today’s league. The Golden State Warriors – another elite team – have over $118 million committed alone to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, D’Angelo Russell, and Draymond Green this season. 

The team is locked into its core going forward, something that’s a double edged sword. 

It’s a great thing if the team achieves its goal of being competitive in the NBA Finals. The team won’t have to worry about losing their key players in free agency, and they can build chemistry throughout the season (barring any major trade).

On the other hand, it limits the team in flexibility, something the Sixers front office has been very keen on in recent memory. If a player goes down with a major injury, they are likely limited in what they do or accomplish going forward. The team will only be able to hand out exceptions and veteran minimum contracts in free agency.

Improving the roster may choose to be a tough task going forward. Matching salary is a vital key in most trades, and there isn’t any player outside of the starting five making more than $5 million a season. Mike Scott is the closest to that number at $4.7 million this season, but he has shown to be a worthy bench player.

Diving Deeper

Remember how I said the team has their starting core locked up for the next four seasons? It’s partly true. Josh Richardson has three years remaining on a bargain of a contract with an opt-out option on the third year that he will almost definitely take. 

What’s a given? Josh Richardson will likely be a member of the Sixers for the next two seasons. After that? The future gets a bit cloudy.

Richardson has grown from being a raw product to being a capable starter in today’s NBA. He’s a model “3&D” player on a steal of a contract. He will be looking to get paid in 2021. 

The team already has over $135 million committed to players in the 2021-2022 season; will ownership and the front office be willing to pay Josh Richardson while dipping heavily into the luxury tax? It’s impossible to predict that now, and there’s a ton of variables. It’s definitely a situation to monitor over the next few years.

Wiggle Room

The team does have some flexibility in the distant future with Al Horford. Horford is a 33 year old big man; and how he will age will likely determine what direction the Sixers go in over the next few years.

Horford’s deal is only partially guaranteed for the final year of his contract in 2022-2023, when he will be 36-37 years old. The team can choose to either trade him to another team, or to simply waive him and only owe $14.5 million instead of $26.5 million.

While $14.5 million is still a pretty big number, every penny counts to a contending team. The team can use the money elsewhere to improve and stay competitive. 

In Conclusion

Most attention is drawn to the starting five’s salary, and rightfully so. Those are the “big names” earning a massive amount money. Those will be the guys who can make or break your odds at winning a NBA title.

However, how the Sixers navigate the salary books outside of their starting five will be crucial to their success in the short and long term. The team will need to hunt for quality role players on good contracts to help the team’s overall success. 

Other key additions to the team’s core will be their two young players, Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle. They’re on cheap temporary contracts as young players and can very easily play better than their salary. How they develop will be important to the team’s long term success.

For better or worse, the team is committed to their main core. The Sixers are really “all-in” for the first time since the Process days. The team will have to win in small, marginal moves to keep improving and to remain competitive.