Report: Sixers Have Inquired About Clippers Forward Blake Griffin
According to Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio, the Sixers have had discussions with the Los Angeles Clippers about the availability of star forward Blake Griffin.
The report comes on the heels of a report from Mitch Lawrence of the Sporting News that the Denver Nuggets had inquired about Griffin.
Speculation about Griffin’s availability has increased in recent days after a report that Griffin would miss at least 4-6 weeks because he broke his hand in an altercation with the team’s assistant equipment manager.
Do the Sixers have a chance of pulling off a deal?
It should be noted that inquiring about Griffin’s availability does not mean that a deal is imminent, or even that the discussions were substantial. In fact, according to Ben Bolch of the LA Times, the Clippers have no ‘active interest’ in trading Griffin.
It’s also not surprising that the Sixers would inquire about a star player potentially becoming available. In fact, a report about the Sixers having no interest in Griffin would be a bigger news story.
Griffin is averaging 23.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game in 30 games for the Clippers so far this season. Pairing the 26 year old forward in a frontcourt with Joel Embiid or Nerlens Noel would be a tantalizing way to jumpstart the rebuild, providing the Sixers with a star who they can build around, who can act as a legitimate selling point to other available stars, and who has enough years left in the prime of his career for the Sixers to have a reasonable chance to construct a team around.
Even if the Clippers do have interest in gauging the market for Griffin, there would be many hurdles for the Sixers to overcome.
The first would be finding a deal that the Clippers would agree to. While the Sixers have numerous assets in their treasure chest they could part with, the Clippers are a team constructed around Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan, and they’re likely to be looking for pieces that could contribute right away, something which the Sixers are in very short supply of.
Second, and perhaps just as difficult, the Sixers would have an uphill battle to keep Griffin around long term.
Griffin has two years left on his contract, owed just over $20.1 million for the 2016-17 season and $21.3 million for the 2017-18 season. The problem is, Griffin has an early termination option in his contract before the 2017-18 season, meaning Griffin could become a free agent next season if he wishes.
And, barring something unexpected happening, Griffin is likely to to exercise that option, regardless of whether he’s happy in his current situation.
The reasoning behind that is how drastically the NBA’s salary cap is set to escalate in the summer of 2017.
The cap for the 2013-14 season, the first year Griffin’s extension kicked in, was set at just under $59 million. Griffin’s starting salary was then capped at 30% of the cap*, or just over $16.4 million for that first year, with raises of 7.5% over that first year, or just over $1.23 million, for each of the following years.
With the new national television deal that came into effect this season, the salary cap is increasing by a substantial amount. The salary cap is expected to jump to $89 million for the 2016-17 season and $108 million for the 2017-18 season, when Griffin could be eligible for a new contract if he does decide to exercise his early termination options.
Short answer: Griffin could stand to gain upwards of $10 million or more if he exercises his early termination option, and that’s not even counting the financial security that comes with a brand new, long-term contract.
The end result is that the Sixers would have 17 months to convince Griffin that Philadelphia is the place he wants to be for the rest of his prime.
The Sixers would have resources to make a relatively quick turnaround, although with the learning curve most young players experience upon entering the NBA you wonder if the organizational philosophy would have to shift away from developing young players to using those draft picks and young talent as trade chips to acquire another veteran star to surround Griffin with.
Depending on how much it would take to acquire Griffin, the Sixers could still have ample trade chips to make another trade of significance, but a little bit of luck — with lottery balls, with other veteran stars becoming available, and with the Sixers’ assets lining up with what those other teams would want in a trade — would be required. The risk of the Sixers acquiring Griffin, but never being able to put enough pieces around him to make the team competitive over the next 1.5 years, is very real.
The final avenue the Sixers would have at their disposal to try to surround Griffin with talent would be the 2016 free agency period.
The Sixers would certainly have considerable salary cap space available to them in order to try to attract a free agent, with just over $24.5 million currently committed to the books for 2016-17, according to Basketballinsiders.com, which would give the Sixers upwards of $64 million in cap space to play with this summer. Even if the Sixers picked up all of the options available to players like T.J. McConnell, Jerami Grant, and others, they’d have upwards of $56 million available to them.
Some of that space would be eaten up by the 2016 draft class. Assuming the most expensive draft class currently possible with the Sixers’ four first round picks (meaning, the Sixers keep all four picks, they draft at #1, #4, #11, and #16, and the rookies command 120% of the slotted salary amount for their draft selection), rookies could account for upwards of $14.5 million of that cap space.
It is, of course, a very real possibility that the Sixers would not keep all four first round draft picks, especially since one (or more) would likely be used in a hypothetical Griffin trade, and even more likely that that the best possible outcome does not come to be. A more likely figure would likely be anywhere from $6-10 million of cap space used on rookies contracts.
The final consideration with how much cap space the Sixers could have to use this offseason would be the details of the hypothetical Blake Griffin trade. The Sixers currently have roughly $9.6 million in cap space, meaning the Sixers could send out anywhere from $9.3 million to roughly $23.7 million in salary to the Clippers under league rules.
Sending out more guaranteed money for next season would be better for the Sixers, as it would decrease the amount of cap space they’d lose in the Griffin acquisition, but the Clippers, already in luxury tax territory for this season, would want to take back as little salary as possible and decrease their luxury tax bill, especially since the high-salary coming back from the Sixers would not be in the form of a current superstar player. Assuming the Sixers acquire Griffin’s salary for 2016-17, while sending out the minimum $9.3 million in commitments, the trade could decrease the Sixers’ 2016-17 cap space by at least $10 million, and possibly more.
Even so, even after the Griffin trade and after accounting for the 2016 draft class, the Sixers could realistically have enough salary cap space to max out any free agent on the market. Would Griffin be enough to lure a superstar player to join him in Philadelphia?
It wouldn’t be unprecedented, but it would be a huge risk. The rising salary cap space makes things a little bit more complicated, as more teams than ever will have cap space this summer. History has shown that the presence of superstars already on the roster is perhaps the strongest selling point a team can make when courting an impact player in free agency, but it would be a huge risk for a team like the Sixers to stake their future to.
The Sixers would have to make another very big splash, either via trade or free agency, this summer to provide a compelling sales pitch persuade Griffin to return in the summer of 2017. Jerry Colangelo and Sam Hinkie would have to do everything right, and they’d have to get lucky on the way. Giving up the amount of assets that would be required to acquire Griffin would be a huge risk with that kind of uncertainty.
Conclusion: Right now there’s no confirmation that the Clippers are seriously considering moving Griffin, it’s hard to envision the Sixers being able to provide the kind of immediate contributors the Clippers would want, and even if all that happened, the Sixers would have an uphill battle to convince Griffin to stay long term.
With all that uncertainty, this is probably a trade rumor that, while enticing to think about, is probably not something to get your hopes up for. At best, this is a rumor that could indicate the ever-changing mindset in the Sixers front office.
Welcome to the NBA’s silly season.
(*Note: the figure they use to define the maximum amount a team can spend, and the figure they use to calculate the baseline for maximum contracts, is slightly different, which is why 30% of $59 million comes out to slightly more than $16.4 million).
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.