The NBA trade deadline is a just around the corner and as usual the trade rumors are going to heat up. There are going to be many fans who think the 76ers are still years away from contending for a championship and they should try to dump as much salary as they can. The two main players who will be at the center of these conversations are Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand. Iguodala and Brand are the two highest paid players on the team and are signed for the next few seasons. The real question is what type of salary cap relief would trading them give the team? The NBA salary cap is very complicated; there may even be some NBA executives who don’t completely understand how the cap works.
Before I get into what the cap means to the current Sixers team, I am going to try to explain the salary cap the best I can. This may be a little boring but I think it is important to know how the cap works before we start demanding trades. The first and most important thing is that the NBA uses a soft cap, not a hard cap like the NHL and what the NFL used until last season. A hard cap is a number that a team cannot surpass, on the other hand, a soft cap can be exceeded in certain circumstances. You have probably heard the phrase “max contract” a lot. The maximum a player can make in one season is set by the number of seasons they have played. You can earn anywhere from 25%-35% of the cap, depending on your service years. This season the NBA cap is around $58 million, but almost every team’s total salary is way above that. The reason for this is because there are certain exemptions that allow you to go over the cap.
The first one is called the “Larry Bird Exemption”, it allows you to go over the cap to sign a player to a maximum contract if you are resigning a player who has been with you for at least 3 seasons. The length of contract can range anywhere from 1-7 years. The second one is call the “Early Bird Exemption”. This is much like the Larry Bird Exemption but the player has to be under contract for only the previous 2 seasons. This allows you to sign a player from anywhere from 2-5 years for up 175% their previous salary. Another one is a more popular one, it is the mid-level exemption. If a restricted FA signs an offer sheet with another team, his old team is allowed to sign a player for the average NBA salary. Now there are a few other exemptions but I don’t want to put people to sleep. The three I mentioned are the 3 most used and in my opinion the 3 most important.
So what does this all mean to the Sixers? Currently there payroll for the current season is around $70million. Next season's salary cap will be somewhere around $59 million. They have around $54 million already committed for next season. This does not include options to potential restricted free agents Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young. Signing them for next season will cost somewhere around $8 million, raising their payroll over the cap to around $62 million. If you try to trade Brand or Iguodala for salary cap relief, there should be upgrades available through FA. The list of impact FA’s after this season is very small. They include Nuggets Forward Carmelo Anthony and Spurs C/F Tim Duncan. Anthony has already made it clear that he would like to sign in New York when he hits FA. Duncan has been with the Spurs for his entire career and he is not going to go a young team like the 76ers. If he does shock everyone and not resign with the Spurs, he would join a team with a great chance a title next season.
Another difficulty in trading Iguodala and Brand is that all traded salaries cannot be more than 125 percent of the players salaries received. To make it simple, if the Sixers trade a player who is making $12.5 million, they must receive a player(s) that make a total of $10 million. A team can trade for expiring contracts but the “salary dump” is a lot harder in the NBA. If they are able to somehow find a team for one of the players to create cap space to sign Duncan or Anthony, what do you do when they go somewhere else? You are left with a lot of cap space and a void of talent.
So if I where the Sixers, what would I do? I would try to trade Brand for anything I can. But it is highly doubtful that anyone would take on his salary. Brand has been playing great lately but is not a part of the team’s long term solution. My goal would be remain competitive the next 2 seasons, and then try to acquire potential FA Dwight Howard after the 2011-12 season. Without Brand the team only has about $21 million committed to players, that number includes the $14 million they owe Iguodala. This would give them plenty of room to sign Howard, a starting lineup of Holliday, Turner, Iguodala, Young and Howard would make them an instant contender.
The 76ers are a team on the rise and I believe Iguodala is a key part of that. He will never be a super star in the league, but I think his role on the team is important. While he may not be worth his contract but there wouldn’t be an adequate replacement. They are a team that is filled with a lot of young talent and Iguodala’s experience would help the younger players grow. People have been calling for both Brand and Iguodala to be traded to clear cap space for the future, but just trading Iguodala would do very little for the team. If the team cannot find a spot for Brand this season, they should just stay the course and continue to grow.