Much has been made of the Philadelphia 76ers' payroll this year, or rather, the lack of it. It has been so unique a situation that it merits and attracts constant comment, something to which we have all been susceptible. I covered the situation a few months ago, trying above all to convey one important point: It doesn't really matter and has never really mattered.
The issue is now closed, and closed with some emphasis. Regardless of their need to meet it, doubts about the Sixers ability and desire to fulfill the salary floor requirement were put to bed Thursday with a series of trades that seem to take on a significant amount of salary. In separate deals with the Wizards, Clippers, Pacers and Cavaliers, the 76ers traded away Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen in exchange for Eric Maynor, Byron Mullens, Danny Granger, Earl Clark and multiple second-round picks. The outbound players combine for a $16,339,867 cap number, while the incoming combine for $21,235,695. The cap space got used, and the floor got met.
Complete trade deadline coverage
Complete trade deadline coverage
It is of note that the picks are second-rounders, not firsts. NBA teams are too risk adverse to give first-round picks away now. And of all the teams to be risk averse about overpaying with picks, Cleveland must rank quite highly. The Luol Deng trade has gone so badly that Cleveland was said to have been looking into re-trading him immediately, despite being only six weeks removed from trading a protected first-rounder, two second-rounders and a right to swap first-round draft picks for him. The Cavaliers traded this package for Deng on the assumption (or hope) that they could extend or re-sign him, yet with that chance already looking extremely unlikely, they put him back on the market. They weren't making that mistake again.
The problem with re-signing Deng stems from the apparent toxicity that the Cavaliers franchise is currently dealing with, and it isn't something the addition of Hawes will rectify. Nevertheless, Cleveland lands a starting-caliber center for the cost of two second-round picks, which isn't easy to do. Second-round picks are also being deemed increasingly valuable, yet if they land you players of this sort of quality, that value is trumped. More importantly than trading for him for two months of mostly meaningless play, Cleveland also trades for Hawes' Bird rights, allowing it to pay any amount it likes to re-sign him. Being where the Cavs, they might have to.
Indiana, meanwhile, gets two useful infusions of talent with no obvious usage for the cost of a much-declined talent with limited effectiveness. A good soldier for so many years, Granger is now a shell of his former self. The stability of his knee has gone, never to return, and with it erodes away his athleticism, defensive effectiveness and off-the-dribble game. His jump shot also seems to have fallen away, as he's unable to create the lift and separation he once did, yet he retains the shot selection of a player yet to fully make the adjustment from pseudo-star to role player. Despite his skillset being entirely different, Turner should be far more helpful.
Despite the oft-documented size of his qualifying offer this summer ($8,717,226) and his cap hold ($13,359,734), the Pacers still have a good chance of re-signing Turner should they wish. Not extending the QO does not mean they lose Turner, or his Bird right; it only means they lose the automatic matching rights that come with free agency. The cap hold is irrelevant to a team without cap space, too, and thus Turner is eminently re-signable, particularly in light of how few serious suitors he seemed to have on the trade market. Indiana has the ability to outbid anybody, and it might not even need it. Turner, then, need not only be a rental. The same is true of Allen, a useful Udonis Haslem-like role player who provides solid depth in the front court without any future salary commitment. Indiana upgrades in this deal, regardless of fit.
Mullens and Maynor mean nothing as players to the Sixers; they are merely unobtrusively small cap hits to absorb next season (both have player options they are likely to exercise), offset by the benefits of having the second-round picks. The inconsistent, frustrating but highly talented Clark may have some value as an athlete and shooting specialist, which he seems to have become. Indeed, in something of an irony, he will likely be better in this role than Granger and is young enough to still conceivably be a part of the future.
Yet regardless of this, the Sixers' goal and result here was to take on dead salary for picks. After all, they have a core to build, and payroll requirements to meet.
Cap number and payroll are not the same thing, and the Sixers were bound only to meet a payroll requirement rather than a cap number one. Even if they did, the "punishment" would have involved being forced to pay up to the minimum threshold anyway. Nevertheless, the Sixers leveraged their eight figures of outstanding cap space for all it was worth and yielded multiple second-round picks for a bunch of players they were going to let leave anyway.
It is of note that they were only able to yield second-rounders. This is an era of NBA roster building in which first-round picks are so revered that not even the ability to save significant salary or the acquisition of quality players such as Turner and Hawes can readily yield them. Indeed, as maligned as they are, Hawes and Turner are indeed that. Hawes is a fantastic offensive center with finish ability, a 40 percent three-point stroke and terrific face-up passing skills and vision who instantly adds extra dynamics to any offensive system.
More on the 76ers-Pacers trade
More on the 76ers-Pacers trade
Turner, meanwhile, is particularly maligned, and seemingly a poor fit alongside the somewhat-comparable Lance Stephenson; yet he too is the victim of an unduly negative perception of his talent. Turner is not a primary ball handler on a competitive team, he continues to take long twos instead of threes and scores fairly inefficiently from the floor. His lack of great physical tools and automatic jumpshot make all field goals tougher to come by, and his off-the-ball game continues to need work. But Turner is not the Julius Hodge type this description often misleadingly paints him to be. Turner is a highly capable second or third option through whom offense can be run, and he might even be a fourth or fifth option on the Pacers, a role for which he is overqualified. And while his man-to-man defense and rotations really are quite poor, the Pacers' strong team defense can cover these better than perhaps any other team could. Turner is a big mid-season infusion of talent for a team that only had about one bullet left to fire and who have fired it well. If Turner clicks nicely into place, Indiana can beat the Heat.
These two players, in the midst of career best campaigns and with the opportunity to dump as much salary as possible, still could not yield first round picks for Philly. Instead, it has to settle for achieving two other goals: obtaining second rounders and deliberately making themselves worse. They took advantage of other team's need for quality players and/or financial savings and are rebuilding as quickly and emphatically as a team can do.
It all serves as a reminder once again that we are but a few months removed from Chicago trying to land a first for Marquis Teague, and Phoenix being able to land what was essentially two, plus Gerald Green, for Luis Scola. Regardless of market trends, anomalies still exist.
Including only a second-rounder in the Granger deal, however, it seems the Pacers have learned their lesson.