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 2017-18 player evaluation: JJ Redick

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: JJ Redick

JJ Redick

Position: Shooting guard

Status for 2018-19: Unrestricted free agent

Redick in 2017-18
It’s OK to admit it now. When you first heard how much the Sixers were giving Redick on the free-agent market last summer, you were a bit alarmed. 

Sure, Redick was always going to be a valuable addition, and the fact that a big-time player chose to join the Sixers was a huge feather in their cap. But paying him $23 million — the sixth-highest mark among NBA two guards in 2017-18 and the 25th-largest sum in the entire league — is a huge investment, even if it was for only one season.

However, the Sixers made it clear that they were finally ready to contend, and getting the best possible fit in free agency was a top priority. In Redick’s case, his game meshed with the Sixers like a glove.

The 33-year-old had arguably his best season as a pro. Redick scored a career-high 17.1 points per game on 46.0 percent shooting from the field and 42.0 percent from three. He also contributed 3.0 assists a night and a personal-best 2.5 boards.

Redick, an up-and-down playoff performer to this point in his career, made the most of his postseason stint with the Sixers. He upped his scoring average to 18.2 points a contest and topped the 20-point plateau in five of the team’s 10 playoff games.

Of course Redick’s defensive deficiencies showed at times throughout the season, but his dead-eye shooting from long range and veteran leadership more than made up for those issues.

Signature game
Redick had plenty of highlights to choose from this past season. In just his eighth game with the team, he went bonkers from beyond the arc late in a 121-110 win over the Indiana Pacers. Redick finished that night with 31 points (eight three-pointers), six assists and three rebounds.

The marksman also contributed another eight-trey performance in a 130-111 victory over his former team, the Orlando Magic, on Nov. 25.

Still, Redick’s best showing of the season came when it mattered most. With the Sixers threatening to advance in the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, he took things into his own hands as he scored a game-high 27 in the team’s series-sealing win over the Miami Heat in Game 5. Not to be denied, the typical jump shooter got to the free throw line 10 times and made each of them to propel the Sixers into the next round.

Looking ahead
You know the situation by now. Redick has stated several times that he wants to be back in Philadelphia, but it’s much more complicated than a simple desire.

First, the Sixers plan to go superstar-hunting in the offseason with the main target being LeBron James. That would almost certainly mean Redick would be shown the door. To his credit, Redick admitted that if a team has the chance to land James, it has to take that opportunity (see story).

Secondly, even if the Sixers swing and miss on James, the numbers to get Redick back in a Sixers uniform could be tricky. He will certainly be looking for a multi-year deal and his numbers suggest he deserves one, but how many years and how many millions is the franchise willing to give a shooting guard who will be 34 when next season tips off?

On Redick
“I don’t want to offend any of the other places I’ve been or teams I’ve been on, but this was probably my favorite year of my career. Playing in Philly is its own experience. Our fans, the city, the buzz about sports and about this team was amazing. I think I said this on media day, it’s the first time I’ll ever play in a real sports town. That definitely lived up to those thoughts. It was awesome to play in Philly.”

- Redick on his experience playing in Philadelphia

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: T.J. McConnell

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: T.J. McConnell

T.J. McConnell

Position: Point guard/shooting guard

Status for 2018-19: Team option will be exercised for $1,600,520

McConnell in 2017-18
Improbably, the undrafted McConnell has become an integral part of "The Process." He was certainly here in the dark days, sharing minutes with Kendall Marshall and Ish Smith and suffering through seemingly endless losing streaks — McConnell, Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes are the only survivors from the 10-win 2015-16 Sixers. This season, the fan-favorite guard was spearheading playoff victories.

McConnell’s “spark,” the unmatched passion and energy he brings every night, is what he’s all about. It’s why so many people love him. But his value lies beyond raw hustle and intensity — McConnell is the best Sixer off the bench at hounding opposing guards and probing the paint. He forces you to play him.

This season, he also forced opponents to respect his shot. After making just 20 percent of his three-point attempts in 2016-17, McConnell worked on his jumper in the summer and saw results, shooting 43.5 percent from long range.

When Markelle Fultz made his surprise return to the lineup on March 26, McConnell nearly dropped out of the rotation — he played just 14.5 minutes per game in the final 10 regular-season games. Still, McConnell has always been supportive of Fultz, and he didn’t get discouraged — when you’ve had to live through one of the worst seasons in NBA history, it takes something bigger than diminished playing time to get you down.

When his moment came, McConnell was ready …

Signature game
If any Sixer had a signature game this season, it was McConnell’s insane Game 4 against the Celtics.

McConnell took Covington’s spot in the starting lineup, and he made Brett Brown look like a genius. With a career-high 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists along with stellar defense on Terry Rozier, McConnell helped the Sixers keep their season alive.

Game 4 wasn’t a total fluke for McConnell. In the series against the Celtics, he shot 19 for 26. When McConnell was on the court, the Sixers were plus-41, the best of any player from either team.

Prior to Game 4, McConnell had a couple other decent contenders for his signature game. In his only start of the regular season on Nov. 25 vs. Orlando, with Ben Simmons sidelined with a left elbow injury, McConnell posted 15 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds.

And on Feb. 12, McConnell notched his first career triple-double, recording 10 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds against the Knicks. He became the first Sixer in franchise history with a triple-double off the bench.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
At his end-of-season press conference, Bryan Colangelo confirmed the Sixers will exercise McConnell’s team option.

Since we know McConnell will be back, the biggest question is, how Brown will find minutes for him? If McConnell is playing at a high level and Fultz isn’t early in the season, Brown will be in a pretty awkward situation.

Even if Fultz has a slow start, you’d assume that the No. 1 overall pick, who’s set to make more than five times as much as McConnell, would take a significant number of his minutes.

After next season, McConnell becomes an unrestricted free agent. Given how he’s proved himself on the big stage, he should be in for a nice payday.

On McConnell
“It’s tough. T.J. is the type of guy that you have to play him. He proved that this series against Boston. Without him in Game 4, I don’t think we win that game. He’s proven to you that you have to play him. He’s going to do his best, he’s going to play hard, he’s going to press full court. He’s going to do his job offensively, that’s to share the ball, and if he’s open, he’s going to shoot it. But we got a great coaching staff. Coach Brown was amazing all year. The assistant coaches … all those guys were amazing. So they’re going to figure it out. But I’m excited. It’s going to be fun.”

- Joel Embiid on Fultz possibly taking away from McConnell’s playing time next season