Philadelphia 76ers: No Rondo, no problem; just use the trade exception

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

For a while now, it felt like the Philadelphia 76ers and Rajon Rondo were somehow linked by the basketball gods.

With an $8.19 million trade exception in Daryl Morey’s back pocket and no real connection between the former NBA champion and the City of Memphis- no offense to Ja Morant and company – the ability to swoop in, secure Rondo’s services, and worry about fit later felt like an inevitable consolation prize for better options ultimately left on the board.

I mean, we’re talking about a player who works out with Ben Simmons, mentored Tyrese Maxey at Kentucky, and won a Chip as Doc Rivers’ conduit on the court. Even if he’s not what one would call a high-volume 3 point shooter, his defensive acumen and well-earned floor general status would surely be enough to justify such a move, right? Even if it was just to be used as trade bait later?

Well, as it turns out, we’ll never know how Rondo would have fit alongside Joel Embiid and company, as he was bought out by the Grizzlies – surely because Morey wasn’t offering a trade – and he reportedly intends to return to the Los Angeles Lakers to re-team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

But hey; it’s cool. At this point, as long as Doc Rivers uses the mid-level exception on someone, I don’t frankly care who that someone is.

The Philadelphia 76ers can’t let the Al Horford trade exception expire.

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As things presently stand, the Philadelphia 76ers have five players under contract making $6 million or more per season, and all of whom are members of their starting lineup.

Is that a particularly unusual feat? Yes, actually. Even for old teams like the Lakers, who rely heavily on veteran players signed to minimum deals, they routinely will have a few players either extended from rookie deals or signed using various exceptions to get their money on the books.

The Sixers, by contrast, didn’t use their mid-level exception last season, used it on Mike Scott the year before, and only have two players on second contracts worth more than the minimum, Georges Niang at $6.76 million and Furkan Korkmaz, who signed a three-year extension worth $15 million.

Is that a big deal? Again, no. The 2020-21 Sixers had a remarkably similar roster only with George Hill instead of Georges Niang, and they finished out the regular season with the best record in the East, but it does become an issue if you want to start making trades.

Why? Well, allow me to elaborate.

Because of the NBA’s very, um, unique way of making trade, teams need to surrender roughly even contractual compensation when they look to make a deal. That means to acquire a player liking, say $9-10 million – a player like the recently traded Philly native Derrick Jones Jr. – a team must give back roughly the same amount of money to make a deal legal outside of any additional compensation needed to get a deal done.

The only way to get around this requirement, outside of being under the salary cap, is to have a trade exception, which allows a team to take back money without giving anything up in return.

Assuming the Sixers want to be players around the trade deadline like they so often are – whether for a stretch 5, a wing defender, or another point guard – they sort of need movable contracts that don’t require multiple assets to justify a move; aka why the team has a trade exception in the first place.

Now granted, could the Sixers land a player who could actually help them come October? Most definitely. There are players like Cedi Osman, D.J. Augustin, and Juan Hernangómez – who is starring in an Adam Sandler movie that is both being shot in Philly and will feature a score of Sixers like Tobias Harris and Doc Rivers – who could all be had for varying returns for the mid-level exception and could help the team in one way or another this season.

Heck, the Sixers could even technically use their trade exception to acquire Collin Sexton without having to return a penny of cap fill in the process, even if such a deal would surely cost multiple first-round picks and may not be the ideal fit alongside Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, or Shake Milton.

But between you and me, I don’t particularly care who the Sixers trade for. I know that’s a cold way of looking at things, but getting that $8ish million on the books is the real prize here, as it could allow the Sixers to package another contract alongside ‘Player X’ to make a trade for a legitimate difference-maker, someone like Dillon Brooks and his $11 million AAV contract a few months down the line.

Remember how the Sixers had to trade three players to get Hill on the books last spring? Does anyone really want to see that happen again?

Next. Waiving Anthony Tolliver is just step one. dark

With Anthony Tolliver officially off the books, the Philadelphia 76ers have 14 players under contract, with one more, Charles Bassey, still unsigned. While the team could totally take the path of least resistance and simply slot in Bassey as their 15th man – and officially sign Grant Riller to a two-way deal – doing so would effectively guarantee the Al Horford trade exception expires, and the team’s overall optionality retracts significantly heading into a season that will surely be defined by change. If Daryl Morey can figure out a way to free up one more spot, filling it with an $8 million player might just be the best way to get the team locked and loaded for what should be a very active spring in 2022.