76ers

What Robert Covington's new deal means for Sixers' future cap space

What Robert Covington's new deal means for Sixers' future cap space

The irony of Robert Covington's impending payday is that he was so drastically underpaid before that the Sixers were well-situated for another team-friendly deal.

And that's exactly what they got.

Covington is expected later this week to sign a four-year, $62 million contract to remain a Sixer. Per multiple reports, the framework of the deal is that $15 million will be added to Covington's salary this season, and then it will play out past this season as a four-year, $45 million deal.

What a steal.

Minutes after Adrian Wojnarowski reported the renegotiated terms, Paul Pierce reacted on ESPN. 

"This guy's underpaid," Pierce said. "He should be getting at least $80 million."

Hard to argue. Kent Bazemore got four years, $70 million from the Hawks. Tim Hardaway Jr. got four years, $71 million from the Knicks. Tobias Harris got four years, $64 million from the Pistons. 

Covington is arguably (perhaps more than arguably) the best all-around player in that group.

A healthy Covington could have surely received more money on the open market next summer, but that's where his previous contract came into play. Covington was making $1.6 million this season. The idea of immediately adding $15 million to his net worth was too tempting for Covington to pass up. Plus, he wanted to be here after helping build the foundation for the Sixers' future. His contract situation was always set up to play into the Sixers' favor.

What works so well for the Sixers with Covington's renegotiated contract is that they already had the cap space to give him his big raise this season. Essentially, this $15 million is a 2017-18 signing bonus that won't impact the Sixers past this season. What a great use of cap room that would've otherwise been wasted.

Moving forward, it is expected that Covington's salary will be between $10 million and $12 million the next four seasons. 

Next season's payroll
As of now, after the Covington and Embiid extensions and the denouncing of Jahlil Okafor's 2018-19 rights, the Sixers have about $30 million of cap space next summer. That assumes they bring back Richaun Holmes and T.J. McConnell at their low figures, and it excludes the cap holds of JJ Redick and Amir Johnson, who are on one-year deals.

That large figure — $30 million — would put the Sixers in a unique position next summer. As of now, only the Lakers (and maybe the Hawks) would have more money to spend.

That doesn't necessarily mean the Sixers will sign a star to a long-term deal next summer. The top of the free-agent class next summer includes LeBron James, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Isaiah Thomas and Chris Paul.

Obviously, Cousins and Jordan are not fits with the Sixers. George's signing with the Lakers is regarded as an afterthought in NBA circles. Thomas and Paul don't make much sense either. That leaves LeBron.

I don't want to get too far off track, but at this point, it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that LeBron would at least take a meeting with the Sixers next summer. He's all about putting himself in the best position to win. He'll be 33 years old and probably won't want to carry yet another team for years. And the teams that have the cap space to add LeBron don't have pieces as talented, as young or as far along as the Sixers.

Just sayin'. Let's move on.

Beyond next season
To optimize their roster as much as possible, the Sixers pretty much have to use their cap space in the summer of 2018 or 2019. After that, they won't have enough room to easily fit in a star. 

Why?

Because they'll have to extend Ben Simmons and possibly Dario Saric by then. And once you do that, you don't have as much cap space. If the Sixers were to add a free agent first, however, they'd still be able to retain their own players with big deals. 

Think about what the Timberwolves did this past offseason, for example. Their window to spend on a free agent was closing because of the impending mega-deals owed to Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. So the T-Wolves struck this summer, trading for Jimmy Butler and his high salary because it would have been one of the last opportunities for them to add a big difference-maker.

Looking ahead to 2019, the top projected unrestricted free agents (assuming LeBron and George find long-term homes in 2018) are Klay Thompson, Butler and Kemba Walker.

Thompson is the most ideal fit imaginable for this Sixers team. He's also the most ideal fit imaginable for practically every team in the NBA.

But if Thompson's out there in the summer of 2019, the Sixers will likely be a major player. And a major reason they'll be a major player is because they have their perpetually improving forward locked up long-term on a team-friendly deal.

Robert Covington is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Sixers pick up Zhaire Smith's third-year option, make clear call to bank on his further development

Sixers pick up Zhaire Smith's third-year option, make clear call to bank on his further development

Zhaire Smith's role with the Sixers isn't yet clear for this season, but the 20-year-old guard has a future with the team.

General manager Elton Brand confirmed that Wednesday. The team announced it has exercised Smith's third-year option for the 2020-21 season, worth $3.2 million

The Sixers acquired Smith and the Miami Heat's 2021 first-round pick last year in a draft-night trade with the Phoenix Suns, who received Mikal Bridges. Smith played in six regular-season games his rookie year, averaging 6.7 points and and 2.2 rebounds per game, but that's far from the whole story. Smith broke his foot in August, then suffered a severe allergic reaction and subsequent complications that led to him losing over 35 pounds. Over time, Smith regained his standout athleticism and rebuilt his jump shot after changing his form to compensate for his loss of strength (see story).

Head coach Brett Brown described Smith during training camp as a "pogo stick" and has praised his talent for on-ball defense, comparing him on multiple occasions to Avery Bradley. However, Smith has not been part of the Sixers' rotation during the preseason. Brown has acknowledged that development is a great priority for the Sixers with Smith than immediate contribution, especially after everything he went through as a rookie. The emergence of rookie Matisse Thybulle and solid play of Shake Milton during the preseason are further reasons why Smith hasn't been playing with the Sixers' regulars. Smith played the entire fourth quarter Tuesday night of the Sixers' 106-86 win over the Pistons and had seven points and three rebounds.

"It's just a process, so I'm not worried about it," he said. "As long as we get the win, it doesn't matter."

Given the potential the Sixers saw in Smith — and continue to see — it never seemed plausible that they would decline his third-year option.

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Ben Simmons' self-awareness came through at practice Wednesday

Ben Simmons' self-awareness came through at practice Wednesday

There has just been a different vibe to Ben Simmons coming into the 2019-20 season.

No, I’m not talking about his quotes about falling back in love with the game. And no, I’m not talking about him launching and swishing a three in the Sixers’ first preseason game.

He’s always been confident in his game — at least he’s always expressed it. There’s just a different aura around him. There’s a maturity that the 23-year-old is exuding that we haven’t quite seen before.

When asked after practice about why doesn’t feel like he needs to improve as a shooter in order for the Sixers to reach their goals, he gave arguably the most articulate and thoughtful response of his professional career.

It's not that I don't need to do it, it's something that I'm working towards getting better as a player, as you would do as a writer — everybody works to get better. Or him behind the camera — he wasn't the best the first day he started. And that's just my game. I'm confident that I'm not a great shooter. I'm getting better, though. But it's a game. There's five people on the court. I lack something that I'm not as great at but other areas I'm very great at. I run the floor as well as anybody. I'm physical, I can rebound the ball. As a 6-10 point guard, I can guard one through five. So that's just one thing that's coming into my game which I'm excited about. I love getting better. I love spending time in the gym and building confidence.

It’s no secret that in years past Simmons hasn’t always been the most forthright or talkative player on the team. He generally gave short answers and appeared like he just wanted to get the media availability over with.

He has spoken to the media more than ever during training camp and coming into the preseason. He’s focused more on becoming a leader and wanting to make sure his bevy of new teammates are up to speed on the team’s terminology and concepts.

While Simmons' newfound clarity came before his team’s roster overhaul, bringing in players like Al Horford and Josh Richardson certainly hasn’t hurt.

“I think prior to everybody getting in, everybody signing, I already felt that,” Simmons said. “That's just based off me putting in that work and being in the gym every day. With the addition of the new guys, it helps. We got a great team with guys want to be here every day, guys enjoy being around each other and just want to play.”

The Sixers' goals are as lofty as they come. They want to win a championship. Nobody around the team has been shy about saying it. 

Certainly not this version of Ben Simmons.

“I feel like everybody is very motivated,” Simmons said. “Al leaving Boston and Josh coming from Miami, the rooks coming in, Matisse [Thybulle] has been killing it. Guys just have a chip on the shoulder and I feel like guys want to be better and win a championship. And that's the level we're at. I think we have a great team.”

After all the talk about his shot and his role being lessened in the playoffs, does he have a chip on his shoulder?

“Nah. Not at all.”

And yeah, he can still be a little snarky when he wants to be.

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