Where the Sixers’ salary cap stands heading into James Harden’s contract negotiations

When James Harden declined his $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season on Wednesday, he gave the Sixers a pathway to both the $10.5 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception and the $4.1 million bi-annual exception. They didn’t waste any time putting both to use once free agency officially began at 6 pm ET Thursday.

The Sixers agreed to a fully guaranteed three-year, $33.2 million deal with forward PJ Tucker, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, and agreed to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with Danuel House Jr., according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. A source confirmed both signings to Liberty Ballers. The second year of House’s deal is a player option, per Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.

The Sixers weren’t done there, though. They also signed reigning G League MVP Trevelin Queen to a two-year, $3.3 million deal, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. A source told Liberty Ballers that the contract contains a partial guarantee in 2022-23, which Derek Bodner of The Daily Six Newsletter reported was $300,000.

Harden has yet to officially agree to terms on his next contract, although he and the team are set to meet over the weekend to negotiate, according to Wojnarowski. Seeing as the Sixers have already spent their non-taxpayer MLE and bi-annual exception, they likely have a ballpark in mind for Harden’s salary next season.

With 15 players currently under contract (not including Harden), the Sixers have more than $120.5 million in salary on their books. They’re roughly $36.4 million below the $150.7 million luxury-tax apron, which is the line that teams cannot cross at any point during a league year in which they use the non-taxpayer MLE, bi-annual exception or acquire a player via a sign-and-trade.

If the Sixers have no other moves lined up this offseason, Harden can earn no more than $36.4 million next season. That’s $11.0 million less than the player option he declined and $10.1 million less than the maximum salary he’s allowed to earn as a free agent. The Sixers can give him 8 percent annual raises from there, but the most he could earn on a three-year deal is $ 118.0 million, nearly $ 33 million less than his maximum.

The Tucker and House signings can’t become official until the July Moratorium lifts at noon ET on July 6. Between now and then, the Sixers could look to create more wiggle room under the apron to give Harden more money next season.

Once the Sixers come to terms with Harden, they’ll have 16 players under contract. Rosters can expand up to 20 players during the offseason (including two-way players), but the Sixers will have to waive at least one of their non-two-way players prior to the start of the regular season.

Even if the Sixers waive Queen, his $300,000 guarantee will remain on their books, although they’d free up $1.3 million in wiggle room under the apron. Third-year guard Isaiah Joe could also find himself on the chopping block, particularly after the additions of House and De’Anthony Melton, as his $1.8 million salary is fully non-guaranteed until opening night.

The Sixers could also be eyeing a consolidation trade over the coming days to clear a roster spot and potentially free up more space under the apron. If they combine the salaries of Furkan Korkmaz ($5 million) and Matisse Thybulle ($4.4 million), they could target someone in the $6-8 million range to accomplish both goals at once.

If they can’t find any takers for the Korkmaz-Thybulle package, the Sixers instead might consider a Tobias Harris trade as a way to shed salary.

The cleanest fit contract-wise might be sending Harris to the Charlotte Hornets for Gordon Hayward, who has two years and roughly $61.6 million left on his contract. He’s earning roughly $7.5 million less than Harris next year, although both Harris and Hayward have trade kickers in their contracts.

Harris is due the lesser of 5 percent of his total remaining contract value or $5 million if he gets traded, while Hayward has a 15 percent trade kicker. Harris’ trade kicker would add roughly $1.9 million to his cap hit in each of the next two seasons, while Hayward’s trade kicker would add $4.6 million. Harris and Hayward could elect to waive their trade kickers—the trade math works either way—but the Sixers would save only around $ 3 million if Hayward did n’t waive his.

The Sixers could also pursue a sign-and-trade in which Harris is the matching salary that heads to another team. One such possibility could be sending Harris and Korkmaz and/or Thybulle to the Indiana Pacers for free-agent forward TJ Warren and guard Buddy Hield, who has two years and $40.5 million remaining on his current contract. However, sign-and-trades must be for at least three years—including one fully guaranteed season—so Warren would have to be amenable to that type of contract structure.

Until Harden agrees to terms and officially inks his new deal, the Sixers will have some modicum of flexibility to increase how much he’s able to earn next year. But if he’s OK with a salary no higher than $36.4 million, they can pull off each of their reported offseason signings and re-sign him while staying below the apron.

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

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