With free agency very quiet and Summer League winding down, there's no better time to take questions in my first Sixers mailbag with 97.3 ESPN. Topics included why free agency has been slow for the Sixers, potential moves left to make, Harden trade domino effects, the new collective bargaining agreement, and Summer League prospects.

By my calculations, the Sixers were $14.5 million below the first apron and a little over $25 million below the second apron after draft night. So, it isn't like they were ever going to have cap space to make improvements via free agency. I think that often gets lost in the dread about the lack of offseason moves. They literally didn't have the requisite resources to pay new guys.

Still, they had four core free agents in Paul Reed, Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels, and Shake Milton. They could've retained all of them using Bird rights (for Niang, it would've been early Bird rights). Of course, only Reed will be back. While I don't necessarily believe the Sixers were caught off-guard by the Harden opt-in-and-trade-request, I do think that put somewhat of a handcuff on how much money they were going to be willing to spend without knowing what a Harden trade would look like or how many players would be coming back to Philadelphia in such a deal.

If they had used their non-taxpayer mid-level exception, not only would they still have had to fill in a number of roster spots, but they also would've been hard-capped at a total team salary of $172,346,000 for the whole league year. So, operating with less than $15 million of flexibility would've been irresponsible.

With the Harden situation suddenly a black hole, they were likely only ever going to have the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5 million) and veteran minimum deals at their disposal going into free agency.

And unless you're going after guys who have unimpressive resumes to date or are trying to hang on to the NBA, you're probably not going to use that mid-level exception until later in free agency when guys are more resigned to the fact that they don't have strong markets.

I certainly wouldn't rule out the Sixers using that mid-level exception on one of the remaining free agents, it just doesn't surprise me that it hasn't happened yet and wouldn't surprise me if it still doesn't happen for a little while.

While they certainly aren't running it back at this point, the core remains intact (the wild card, of course, being Harden). I think you might see Nick Nurse leverage flexibility to squeeze more value out of the bench. For example, maybe they don't really have great depth at small forward or power forward. But, maybe Nurse uses Reed as a power forward in some lineups and, in turn, that bumps Tobias Harris to small forward in some lineups.

Philadelphia clearly doesn't have much of a scoring punch off the bench at this point in the offseason. If the Sixers use that mid-level exception, I would anticipate a shooter or someone with a scorer's mindset. Don't rule out Nurse giving legitimate opportunities to the likes of Terquavion Smith, if only because there aren't more credible options on that bench.

We've already addressed the first question. But, to the second question, I think the general doomerism on Sixers Twitter is slightly overblown. Only one of the three core free agents that departed was still in the rotation by the end of the Boston series!

Sure, they lost some regular-season minutes eaters. That's important. But, that's also fixable with one well-placed signing as the free-agent market dries up. I also think, with Nurse's creativity, the Patrick Beverley signing (which I think was a home run!), and Reed's offer sheet being matched to keep him in Philadelphia, they have a chance to lean more towards defense with the bench lineups. I don't care whether the bench has to resort to defense or offense in its minutes, just keep the boat afloat.

With that aforementioned mid-level exception standing as the only resource of significance that the Sixers can use this offseason, a trade(s) would be the only other avenue of adding substantial pieces.

In terms of what a trade might look like or how soon it would happen, I would pay attention to their current salary commitments in 2024-25. Clearly, having an open book with a bunch of cap space is part of their strategy right now. If you want my theory - and, I should note, an uninformed and unsourced theory, at that - the threat of cap space in the summer of 2024 might help them in trade negotiations at the 2024 deadline. Remember when they traded for Harden? Woj said that part of why Brooklyn traded Harden when they did was that they believed he would leave for Philadelphia in free agency that summer anyway.

I think the biggest risk of all is rushing a Harden trade for the sake of knowing how much money and roster space you have at your disposal for free agency. I don't know what their organizational stance on this would've been, but quite frankly I'd venture to guess they never intended on really improving the team in free agency this summer anyway.

I've seen conflicting suggestions on whether this is even possible. But, there is no extending off of his current option. Harden is guaranteed to be a free agent in the summer of 2024. The Sixers will, however, have his Bird rights. But, who knows how healthy the marriage will be, if he's still on the team, by the summer of 2024. Having his Bird rights very well may not matter anyway.

I think both Ricky Council IV and Smith play with the right confidence to make it in the NBA. But, Council is going to need to rebuild that jumper from the bottom. He's going to be one of the most athletic players in the organization on day one. I've been impressed with his motor, which shows most in blowing up long defensive rebounds to create additional plays for the Sixers on offense.

Smith has been sensational. Most impressive has been his willingness to toggle between being a gunner and being a playmaker. He's going to need to commit himself on defense more consistently, but he's been confident in everything he does on offense. I really felt like he had it on one particular possession against Dallas the other night. He got to the cup, saw that he needed to adjust mid-air, and slowed the game down for himself as he contorted through traffic to finish at the rim. That's the instinct talking.

Actually, I would say the new collective bargaining agreement inspires more hope for parity. It's intended to break apart teams like the Warriors and Clippers. The warm-weather franchises can't just sign everyone and anyone anymore because it's not just about paying the luxury tax anymore. There are real team-building consequences to exceeding the second apron that will force some teams to construct rosters with more balance instead of top-heavy talent. There should be more for everyone.

Oh man, tough one. I don't think he's really anywhere close to being ready for the offensive side of the NBA game. Needs too much lower-body power to get his jumper to the basket when shooting off the catch, loses his handle with the slightest bit of disruption, gets engulfed on drives, still jumps off two feet. Got a long way to go there.

On the other hand, I think he's probably ready to be a helpful defensive player. He'll be especially helpful on the ball due to his low center of gravity. I would guess he's a fringe rotation player, and that's only because they've lost much of their regular-season depth in this free agency.

There's always noise out there. But, knowing how relationships often connect the dots in the NBA, it wouldn't surprise me if the Sixers looked at Kelly Oubre Jr. His agent is Torrel Harris - father and agent to the Sixers' resident Crumbl Cookie provider. The Sixers' front office certainly knows how to get in touch with Harris and has a history of doing business with him.

Now, there is reason to wonder whether Harris would steer another client to the Sixers. After all, Tobias' future with the team is uncertain and Mr. Harris made it known on a recent podcast that he feels his son has been misused in his time with the Sixers. So, I could see why it wouldn't happen; but, it wouldn't be surprising if they used the taxpayer mid-level exception on someone who fills a need and whose representation they're quite familiar with already.

Beach Bucket List: South Jersey’s Best Beach Bars

More From 97.3 ESPN