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.

Decision of free agent Tobias Harris toughest Elton Brand will face but may define offseason

Decision of free agent Tobias Harris toughest Elton Brand will face but may define offseason

Everyone was in shock when Elton Brand was able to acquire Tobias Harris before the trade deadline.

Harris was having an All-Star-caliber season, flirting with the elite 50/40/90 shooting line and on his way to a big payday this offseason. 

When the move was made, and after Harris’ red-hot start with the Sixers, bringing him back seemed like a no-brainer. But Harris stumbled to the finish line and had an up-and-down playoff run. 

Should the Sixers bring back Harris and see what this loaded team can do with a full season or let him walk and secure the team’s depth? The answer isn’t black and white.

Harris’ first eight games as a Sixer were remarkably good. He averaged 21.9 points and shot 55/42/83, looking every bit like the player they traded for. His clutch 32-point performance in the team’s first win against the Thunder in forever was a virtuoso performance. He was outstanding and played closer.

Over the last 19 games, Harris averaged 16.7 points and his line went down to 43/27/85. That is a precipitous drop off. His playoff numbers were OK and reflective of his uneven performances. What will stick out most to fans is his 7-of-23 performance in a pivotal Game 4 against Toronto. That series loss is still raw and that game very well may have swung the series, so it’s fair.

But who outside of Jimmy Butler was consistently good in the second round? Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both struggled mightily in just their second postseason. Even Butler himself had a rough Game 7.

It’s important to keep in mind the context of Harris’ career. This was his eighth NBA season, but he’s just 26 years old. He’s also improved markedly over the course of his career. He was pretty much a non-threat from three for the first six years of his career, shooting just 33 percent on less than three attempts per game. Over the last two seasons, he was over 40 percent on over five attempts while being traded twice.

Given that improvement, it’s also fair to project Harris’ playoff play will improve. Before playing in 12 postseason contests with the Sixers, Harris’ only other playoff experience was when the Pistons were swept in the first round in 2016. Like Embiid and Simmons, this taste of failure could fuel him. It’s also fair to believe that improved performances by the Sixers’ young All-Stars could open more things up for Harris.

When you start talking money, it gets exceedingly more complicated. Signing Harris and Butler to near-max deals and giving Simmons his first max extension would push the Sixers over the luxury tax. It’s something that Josh Harris has repeatedly said would not be a problem. At that point, you’d be looking at a bench full of young, cheap players  and veteran ring chasers. 

If you let Harris walk, you could look on the free agent market and perhaps sign a trio of Terrence Ross, Corey Joseph and Dewayne Dedmon, as an example. There’s also a greater chance you could bring back JJ Redick and/or James Ennis and/or Mike Scott. That could ultimately be the more attractive option if you’re able to sign Jimmy Butler. 

If Butler leaves, you almost have to keep Harris. While the loss of Butler would sting, you’d be in solid shape building around the trio of Embiid, Simmons and Harris, all 26 or younger. If you don't strike early enough with Harris, he's going to have other suitors. He may have a little patience, but he's not going to wait forever.

Brand’s intention at the time of the Harris deal was to keep all four star-caliber players. While Brand said he was happy with what he saw out of Harris and Butler, was it enough to bring both back? 

It’s as difficult a decision as Brand will face this offseason.

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He's not perfect, but Jimmy Butler is worth the risk for Sixers in free agency

He's not perfect, but Jimmy Butler is worth the risk for Sixers in free agency

Jimmy Butler is flawed. Even he would tell you that. He’s grated teammates in the past with his uncompromising personality, looks nothing like a star in certain offensive schemes and has an extensive injury history.

Flaws and all, Butler is a player the Sixers should be willing to commit a lot of money to (up to the maximum of $190 million), and for a lot of years (up to five, which only they can offer), if their competition demands it. Retaining Butler for a bargain would obviously be preferable to giving him five years and $190 million, though, given the way he boosted his stock in the postseason, they very well may need to pay him the max. 

The concerns about Butler’s locker-room presence are fair in the context of his acrimonious exits from Chicago and Minnesota. All indications, however, are that he’s formed strong relationships with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Brett Brown (see story). Simmons and Embiid have both glowed about how Butler has facilitated their growth as leaders.

Butler also appears to have genuine respect for his teammates. He had a lot of fun in Philadelphia as well, another element that was evidently missing with the Timberwolves. 

“What hurts most about this loss is we had a great group of guys that would ride for one another,” Butler said at his exit interview Monday. “It was special. We enjoyed playing with each other. You couldn’t mess with anybody on the team because somebody was always going to be there, in your face. But to think that this roster might not be the exact same next year, that’s what really hurts.”

The worries about the heavy minutes Butler has logged and the injuries he’s suffered are valid, too. However, there wouldn’t be a burden on Butler to play 40 minutes every night alongside Simmons, Embiid and, potentially, Tobias Harris. Butler averaged 33.2 minutes in his 55 regular-season games with the Sixers, his lowest since the 2012-13 season. The Sixers have the freedom to manage his load in the regular season and be cautious with injuries to ensure they get the best version of “Playoff Jimmy.”

It is very possible that Butler’s play would decline in the fourth and fifth year of a long-term contract. With the Sixers shooting for a title now, that’s a sensible risk. If Butler can help lead the Sixers to a championship at 31 years old, the trade-off of him being expensive and diminished at 34 years old would be worth it.

As we expected when he first arrived, the on-court fit with Butler wasn’t perfect. He prefers pick-and-rolls and isolations and thrives in those settings, while Brown had built his offensive system around ball and player movement. Butler often faded into the background for the first three quarters of a game, relegated to a passive role, before taking command in the fourth quarter.

But Brown, Butler and the Sixers eventually identified and began to hone a few things that work. The potential of the Butler-Embiid pick-and-roll is immense, and it’s been clear since their early days together how dangerous Simmons and Butler can be in tandem when the Sixers push the ball.

Butler cleans up familiar weaknesses for the Sixers with perimeter defense and turnovers. His 6.9 turnover percentage was the lowest of any Sixers regular. And, as “the adult in the room,” he’s one player you can depend on for tenacious effort. If the Sixers want to avoid the exasperating inconsistency we saw this season, the stability of retaining Butler and the impact of having a competitor like him can’t hurt.

No, he doesn’t have a spotless past, and there are legitimate questions about his future, but Butler’s imperfections shouldn’t obscure his value. Elton Brand took a big risk in acquiring him, and he’d be smart to take another to keep him.

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