Written by Garrett Catalana – @GarrettCatalana
There was a $2.6 million cloud hanging over the Sixers head when the trade deadline deal involving themselves, the Rockets, and the Pistons fell through. By adding Joel Anthony’s contract from the Rockets, the Sixers would have been just below the salary cap floor, which is 90% of the salary cap ($63 million). When this trade initially went down, the Sixers had to release one of its fifteen players in order to acquire a traded player, so JaKarr Sampson was placed on waivers. Sampson went unclaimed so the Sixers were on the hook for the remainder of this $845k salary this season. Since no trade happened and Sampson was cut, the Sixers had an open roster spot that could either be used for the team to get over the salary cap floor or add a player on a 10-day contract as a low-risk option.
The Sixers had plenty of options during the NBA buyout season to take on contracts that would have gotten them over the cap floor, with guys like Steve Novak, JJ Hickson, David Lee, Jason Thompson, Kris Humphries, Kevin Martin, Beno Udrih, Chase Budinger, and Ty Lawson all hitting the waiver wire. Hinkie decided not to claim any of these players. Because of injuries in the frontcourt to Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and Richaun Holmes, the Sixers needed an extra big so they resigned Christian Wood to a ten-day contract on March 4th. But Wood didn’t last long as he was cut once again in order to claim a player off waivers.
On March 7th, the Sixers finally got over the cap floor by claiming former-Suns guard Sonny Weems off waivers. By claiming Weems’ $2.8 million cap hit for this season, the Sixers have finally gotten over the salary cap floor, leaving the Portland Trail Blazers as the only other team who hasn’t reached the floor.
Hinkie made similar moves last season when he claimed Thomas Robinson off waivers and traded for JaVale McGee in order to reach the salary floor, saving the team millions since they only had to pay a certain percentage of those players’ salaries, yet having much larger cap hits. According to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the NBAPA investigated these cost-cutting moves regarding possible violations of the “spirit” of the CBA. These complaints were relayed to agents during a June meeting, but it is very important to note that Sam Hinkie did not violate any CBA rules with these transactions.
With regards to the CBA and the salary cap, free agents claims would count for the entire contract, just like a trade. It is all based on the cap hit and not the actually amount paid. It is perfectly legal for Hinkie to do what he has done. As Larry Coon, an expert on the CBA told the Inquirer back in June about this rule, he said: “That’s what the players agreed to in 2011.”
Let’s not forget that the Portland Trail Blazers made similar deals this trade deadline when it came to the salary cap floor. Just like the Sixers last year, the Blazers were way under the cap floor, but by taking on Anderson Varejao’s contract ($12 million) from Cleveland and Brian Robert’s contract from Miami ($2.8 million), the Blazers are now just about $500k below the floor. They took up $15 million in cap space but they got a first round pick from the Cavs and a second round pick from the Heat. Just like Hinkie, Blazer’s GM Neal Olshey took advantage of his situation by adding draft picks for his unused cap space as well as saving his team millions in actual obligations. In fact, the Blazers are only paying those two players a combined $4 million salary the rest of this season, so they actually saved around $9 million by making those trades. So will the NBAPA check in on them this summer too? Probably not.
As we know, JaVale McGee was released after playing just a handful of games with the team and Thomas Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Nets in the offseason. Will newly acquired Sonny Weems have a similar fate with just 19 games left in the season?
If anything, Weems plays at a position of significant need for the Sixers. With three point guards and a bunch of big men, the Sixers only have a handful of wings on the team, with one currently out due to injury (Nik Stauskas). That leaves the team with Isaiah Canaan, Hollis Thompson, and Robert Covington as the only other wing players. Weems will certainly get a look at a position with serious issues. He definitely didn’t impress with the Suns after returning to the NBA following four years oversees in Russia and Lithuania, averaging less than 3 points and 12 minutes in just 36 games with Phoenix. But can the 29-year old really be that much worse than what we are seeing right now?
Weems has one year remaining on his contract for a paltry $2.9 million, which is nonguaranteed until July 11th, so the Sixers have between now and 7/11 to decide to cut him without financial ramifications. With this waiver add, the Sixers killed two birds with one stone: they finally reached the salary floor (saving $2 million) but they also added a player at a position of serious need.
Is it great that the Sixers have made these moves two years in a row to take advantage of current rules? Definitely not, but much like the way the NBA Draft is set up with its lottery odds, Sam Hinkie will continue to work around current rules until they are changed.