Roster Decisions Loom Large for 76ers
NBA teams have decisions to make throughout the year, but that’s especially true in the month of October. As the Sixers preseason unfolds, here are some important dates to keep in mind, and some of the decisions the Sixers will have to make in the coming weeks.
October 26th: Rosters need to be trimmed down to 15
NBA teams are allowed to keep up to twenty players on their roster during the offseason. That number drops to fifteen in the regular season, and October 26th, the day before the start of the regular season, is the day that teams have to submit their regular season rosters by.
Who will be among those cut at the end of training camp is among the biggest questions for a team in preseason and the Sixers, because of the stage of the rebuild that they are at, are particularly volatile. Head coach Brett Brown said that he expects to keep three point guards when the team begins the regular season. With six point guards on the training camp roster, that means over half of the five required cuts could come from this group.
Two of the three point guards who are all but guaranteed to make the roster are Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten, and neither are expected to be ready to play once the regular season starts, as Brown said on October 8th that both are at least a month away. This gives the other four — Isaiah Canaan, Scottie Wilbekin, Pierre Jackson, and T.J. McConnell — a great opportunity to get playing time, and impress the coaching staff, in preseason.
If both Wroten and Marshall are inactive to start the season, and Brown sticks to his statement that they will only keep three point guards on the regular season roster, that would leave the Sixers with only one natural point guard on opening night. JaKarr Sampson did play some point for the team last year, so it’s possible they use him as a stop-gap backup point guard if either Wroten or Marshall are close to being ready. If neither of them are close to being ready, it could open up the possibility of the Sixers carrying a 4th point guard into the regular season, allowing them to keep two of Isaiah Canaan, Pierre Jackson, Scottie Wilbekin, and T.J. McConnell.
If the Sixers do only carry three point guards, that means there will be at least two additional cuts to be made. Those two cuts are likely to come from some combination of J.P. Tokoto, Jordan McRae, and Christian Wood.
Carl Landry and Furkan Aldemir are also potential candidates, although they would be a little bit more surprising. While the 32 year old Landry is not likely to be in the Sixers long-term plans, he has $13 million guaranteed to him over the next two seasons and isn’t expected to return from a wrist injury until after the start of the regular season. If they were going to cut Landry and eat the rest of that contract before he returned to action, they probably would have already done so. I also get the sense that the team would like to see how Furkan Aldemir improves with a full season under coach Brett Brown. Aldemir joined the Sixers midway through last season and has $3 million guaranteed to him this year.
One other thing to keep in mind is that it’s entirely possible (perhaps even likely) that the Sixers value somebody another team cuts more than somebody currently on the roster. This happened last season with Robert Covington. While the Sixers and Covington were not able to come to an agreement until weeks after the start of the regular season, there was interest from the Sixers from the moment Covington was waived by Houston. If a similar situation comes up, the Sixers could end up parting ways with more than five of the twenty players currently on their training camp roster.
Being waived at the end of training camp doesn’t necessarily mean a full break between player and team, however. The NBA allows teams to designate up to four players cut during training camp as “affiliate players”. What this means is that if a player does sign with the D-League, rather than be placed into a pool of players who can be selected in the D-League draft, the players would instead be controlled by the 76ers D-League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers.
This allows for the 87ers staff, themselves employees of the Philadelphia 76ers, to work with these players on a day in, day out basis. This would provide the 76ers with more information on a player’s improvement throughout the year, and also give them valuable information about how a player approaches his craft: how receptive a player is to coaching, how hard he works in practice, etc.
This clause causes team to increase the partial guarantee included in the training camp contracts that many of these borderline NBA prospects get in the hope that they can then keep them around their D-League affiliate if they do not make the team out of camp. This increased partial guarantee often times helps to overcome the discrepancy between what a player can earn in the D-League and the more lucrative contract they could potentially earn by going overseas.
There are a couple of caveats, however.
First, once a player is waived by a team, he is not forced into signing with the D-League. He could sign a contract overseas, for example, and the team would have no control over them. All designating a player as an affiliate player means is that if he does in fact sign with the D-League, the Sixers affiliate would have their rights.
Second, while the player would be on the 87ers, the 76ers would not hold his exclusive NBA rights. So if the player begins to play well any team in the NBA could call him up and sign him to an NBA contract. In order for the Sixers to retain their NBA rights, the Sixers would have to keep them on an NBA contract, and on their fifteen man roster.
Finally, the NBA does have a hardship exception that the Sixers could apply for. This exception would increase the size of the inactive list to four, thus enabling the Sixers to extend their regular season roster to sixteen. The problem is, the Sixers would need for four players to be sick or injured for at least three games before they could apply for this exception, so this is not an exception the Sixers would have available to them at the start of the season.
November 2nd: Team options for Joel Embiid, Nik Stauskas, and Nerlens Noel
Years three and four of a 1st round rookie-scale contract are team options, meaning the team has to decide to exercise them. The decisions being made now are for the options for the 2016-17 season.
The deadline for this is usually October 31st, but is pushed back to the next business day if October 31st falls on a weekend. Since October 31st falls on a Saturday this season, the deadline for the Sixers to pick up these options is Monday, November 2nd.
The amount that these options are worth is already set as part of the rookie scale. For Joel Embiid and Nik Stauskas, these options will be for the 3rd year of the rookie-scale contract, which is the first year that isn’t guaranteed. The scale is based off of the draft year, and draft slot, where the player was selected. The NBA sets the scale amount for each pick, and players and teams then have 20% up or down that they can negotiate. In practice, nearly everybody gets 20% more than the slot.
The NBA has slotted a salary of $4,021,800 for the 3rd year of the contract for the 3rd pick in the 2014 NBA draft, as Joel Embiid was. The option the Sixers would have to pick up is 120% of that slot, or $4,826,160. Nik Stauskas’ 3rd year of his rookie contract was slotted at $2,494,200 as the 8th pick in that same draft. The option the Sixers would have to pick up is 120% of that, or $2,993,040.
For Nerlens Noel it’s a little bit different, as Noel will be entering the 4th and final year of his rookie-scale contract. The NBA sets the 4th year option as a percentage of what the player earned during his 3rd year, with that percentage once again dictated by where a player was drafted. For rookie-scale contracts, the NBA actually has players towards the bottom of the 1st round receiving larger increases than at the top of the 1st round: the #1 pick only receives a 26.1% increase over the value of the 3rd year of his contract, but the 30th pick receives an 80.5% raise.
As the 6th pick in the 2013 draft, Noel’s slotted salary for his 3rd year was $2,881,500, and he received 20% over that for a total of $3,457,800. He’s due a 26.8% raise for his 4th year, meaning the total amount of the option the Sixers will have to pick up for the 2016-17 season would be $4,384,490.
|Player||Year on Contract||$ Value|
It’s a virtual guarantee that the Sixers will pick up all three of these options. While Joel Embiid’s injury history makes him a question mark, and Nik Stauskas was disappointing in his only season to date, they were both highly touted prospects entering the draft. The Sixers will have more cap space than they know what to do with next summer, especially with the salary cap projected to jump to over $90 million for the 2016-17 season thanks to a new lucrative national television deal.
With just over $12 million in guaranteed salary committed for next season, and not even half of the $90 million salary cap reached even if every non-guaranteed salary is paid in full, the Sixers have little reason to let talented players on cheap rookie-scale contracts walk away.
In the past, Sam Hinkie has picked up these options just before the deadline, so as you begin to hear reports of other players having their options picked up, don’t take that as a sign that any of Noel, Embiid, or Stauskas won’t. It’s a virtual guarantee that all three will have their options picked up.
November 2nd: Deadline to extend Tony Wroten.
November 2nd is also the deadline to extend Tony Wroten, who is on the final season of his four year rookie-scale contract this year.
It would be a bit of a surprise if the Sixers extended Wroten now. Wroten was a flawed player even when healthy last season, with an outside shot that is completely ineffective outside of 3 feet and turnover problems that make it tough to fit him in a structured offense. On a team that looks to center its offense around post scorers and three point shooters, Wroten’s fit is questionable.
What made Wroten interesting despite those flaws was his incredible athleticism, and thus his ability to get into the paint off of the dribble. Coming off of an ACL tear, the Sixers are likely to want to see not only how much improvement he can make to round out the rough edges of his game, but also whether he can return to being the same elite athlete he previously was.
If the Sixers do not extend Wroten by November 2nd, they will have the option to make him a restricted free agent next July, meaning they’ll have the right to match any offer a team might make to him. With so many questions surrounding Wroten it’s likely that the Sixers wait to see how Wroten is able to come back from his injury and what improvements he can make to diversify his skill set before committing long term to him.