Tobias Harris Will Decide The Sixers’ Direction At The Trade Deadline

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After a mediocre 12-12 start, the Philadelphia 76ers have been one of the NBA’s hottest teams over the past two months. They’ve won 18 of their past 22 games to vault up to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, although the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers are hot on their tails.

With the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline approaching, the Sixers need to decide whether they’re in need of major upgrades or content with only making moves around the margins. If they’re eyeing bigger changes, Tobias Harris will likely be on the move out of necessity.

Since the Sixers are currently $1.2 million over the NBA’s $150.3 million luxury-tax line, they can take back no more than 125 percent of the salary they send out in a trade, plus $100,000. That rule combined with their top-heavy salary structure this season will make it difficult for them to pursue someone earning $15 million or more without including Harris.

Harris ($37.6 million) is the highest-paid member of the Sixers this season, while Joel Embiid ($33.6 million), James Harden ($33.0 million) and P.J. Tucker ($10.5 million) are the only other players earning at least eight figures. De’Anthony Melton ($8.3 million) has become indispensable for the win-now Sixers, even if the NBA’s current extension rules might complicate their path to re-signing him.

The Sixers’ next-highest-paid players are Furkan Korkmaz ($5.0 million), Matisse Thybulle ($4.4 million) and Danuel House Jr. ($4.1 million), all of whom are likely expendable ahead of the deadline. Korkmaz, who has largely fallen out of the rotation this year, still has one year and $5.4 million remaining on his contract after this season. Thybulle is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, while House can become an unrestricted free agent by declining his $4.3 million player option for the 2023-24 season.

Those three will be the Sixers’ main salary-matching chips at the trade deadline if they don’t move Harris. Georges Niang ($3.5 million), Tyrese Maxey ($2.7 million), Montrezl Harrell ($2.5 million), Jaden Springer ($2.1 million), Shake Milton ($2.0 million) and Paul Reed ($1.8 million) don’t earn enough to bring back a significant piece, although the Sixers could package them with Korkmaz, Thybulle and/or House to increase the amount of salary they could receive in a trade.

Let’s use a few examples to demonstrate how hamstrung the Sixers are at the trade deadline if they aren’t willing to part with one of their bigger contracts.

Detroit Pistons wing Bojan Bogdanović is one of the more popular names being bandied about in trade rumors. The 33-year-old is averaging 21.5 points on 49.1 percent shooting, 3.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists in only 31.4 minutes per game. Even if the Sixers could meet the Pistons’ reported asking price of an unprotected first-round pick—they can’t, thanks to the Stepien Rule—it would be nearly impossible for them to cobble together enough salary without including Harris, Tucker or Melton.

Bogdanović has a $19.6 million cap hit this season, which means the Sixers would need to send out at least $15.6 million in salary to acquire him. Combining all three of Korkmaz, Thybulle and House would only get them to $13.5 million, so they’d have to include Springer or Harrell as well. However, the Pistons don’t have enough open roster spots to swing a four-for-one deal, so they’d have to turn it into a bigger trade or waive players before finalizing this transaction.

The Sixers would run into the exact same problem with Houston Rockets wing Eric Gordon, whom they were linked to back in the offseason. Like Bogdanović, Gordon is earning nearly $19.6 million this season, so the Sixers would need to send out $15.6 million for him as well. And like the Pistons, the Rockets don’t have enough open roster spots to swing a four-for-one trade, so this would also have to expand to a three-team deal unless the Rockets were willing to waive three players on guaranteed contracts.

The Sixers could take back roughly $11.8 million in salary if they package Korkmaz and Thybulle together, so players in that contract range are more realistic targets for them. Dallas Mavericks wing Reggie Bullock ($10.0 million), Pistons guard Alec Burks ($10.0 million) and Washington Wizards guard Delon Wright ($7.8 million) all fit that mold, provided the Sixers can meet their respective teams’ asking prices. They are owed the Charlotte Hornets’ second-round pick in this year’s draft, which should wind up being in the high 30s and could be the sweetener they need to swing a deal.

But if the Sixers are eyeing a deal in which they’re bringing back a player earning around $20 million or more, it will almost have to include Harris by default.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM. All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook.

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