Why the eventual James Harden trade made it difficult for the Sixers to re-sign Jalen McDaniels
The Sixers said goodbye to their trade-deadline acquisition on Saturday afternoon.
Jalen McDaniels - who they acquired from the Charlotte Hornets in a multi-team deal that saw Philadelphia send out Matisse Thybulle and a 2023 second-round pick - signed with the Toronto Raptors, according to Shams Charania.
The deal will pay McDaniels $9,257,800 over two years, an average of $4,628,900 per year.
Many expressed displeasure that the Sixers' only deadline move resulted in Thybulle being expensed on what was effectively a rental player for money-saving purposes. And in some ways, that outrage is justified. Philadelphia had McDaniels' Bird rights. They could've paid whatever was necessary to keep the young wing.
They didn't need the bi-annual exception; what Spotrac projects the Raptors used to sign the former late second-round pick and a salary provision that the Sixers didn't have access to anyway after using it to pick up Danuel House Jr. early in last summer's free agency.
The Sixers didn't need the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, a $12,405,000 investment that hard-caps teams at the first tax apron ($172 million in team salary), to retain McDaniels.
They wouldn't have needed the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5 million for 2023-24; hard-caps teams at the $182.5 million second tax apron) to keep the lanky wing around, either.
Philadelphia could've just re-signed him at any figure without using any exceptions, even despite being over the league's salary cap.
But, it's not as simple as "they let him go for less than $5 million per year".
The Harden trade lurks as the elephant in the room here. Philadelphia wants star value in return for the star point guard. Perhaps that isn't coming in a simple two-team trade. Rather, it very well may require multiple moving pieces, with the Sixers looping in a third team or completing two separate trades to fulfill the goal.
With little certainty, at least publicly, about how many players the Sixers will need to take back in order to get what they need in return for Harden, it simply wasn't feasible to keep McDaniels when the Raptors were offering the full bi-annual exception on July 1.
That doesn't mean it wouldn't have been feasible to keep him if he was still available in, say, mid July. It all depends on the Harden trade.
The reality is that the Sixers probably don't know how much salary space they'll have left after the Harden deal. They don't know which exceptions, if any, they'll have left after the trade(s). And while McDaniels could've been retained without using any of the exceptions, his salary still pushes the Sixers that much closer to the aprons.
While Philadelphia was able to nab veteran guard Patrick Beverley on Saturday afternoon, they did that using a veteran minimum contract. Those deals don't hard-cap you anywhere. The Sixers didn't lose any flexibility because the veteran minimum was going to be one of their few resources anyway, regardless of the Harden deal.
That made financial sense, and that's why they felt comfortable doing it.
But, the order of operations in NBA free agency say that Philadelphia shouldn't be comfortable committing to money beyond veteran minimums until they get a Harden deal done.
And that's why I would be surprised if we see the Sixers really jump into the free-agent pool before they resolve the Harden situation.
The risk of locking themselves out of a suitable Harden trade just isn't worth quickly spending relatively large chunks of money, even if it's on a player that makes sense for the Sixers.