On the first day of free agency, the biggest news to emerge (aside from LaMarcus Aldridge’s hatred of the Los Angeles Lakers) was the late night trade between the Sacramento Kings and the Sixers. To open up salary so they can overpay mid-level free agents, the Kings decided to shed Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, and Nik Stauskas while throwing in a protected first round pick for the rights to Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic, two of the Sixers second round picks this year. Fortunately, I will never have to type those names again since neither player is an NBA talent and will probably stay overseas. The Sixers were also given the right to swap picks in two future drafts.
Although the veteran names are a little more intriguing than some of the other salary dumps the Sixers have been a part of recently, Stauskas and the draft considerations were the motivation behind this trade. I was never high on Stauskas – I feel as though he lacked the athleticism to justify a lottery pick – but he can definitely shoot, and for a team with not enough salary or talent it is worth taking a flyer on a position of need as the Kings move forward with another lottery pick, Ben McLemore. Landry and Thompson could contribute and help mentor Noel and the other big men, but I would not be surprised if they flipped both players for other considerations later as Hinkie continues to deal.
As a salary dump, the trade is pretty straight forward. More significantly, though, it may signal a return to an NBA where salary cap room is an asset – not only to attract free agents, but also to facilitate trades. NBA teams have been extremely protective of their draft picks over the last few years, but the impending jump in salary cap and the realization that superstars are both vital to contend and hard to come by has led teams to start looking to free agency again to build. For a team like the Sixers, who are already in the midst of building through the draft, this is an ideal environment to collect assets. As the trade with the Kings’ today and the trade with the Nuggets (for JaVale McGee and a first round pick) at the trade deadline have shown, teams are willing to again include picks if a team is willing to take on salary. The names in the trades are becoming more familiar as teams shed slightly overpaid role players to sign massively overpaid starters – and are mortgaging their draft future to do so.
As the new TV deal and a lockout loom, no one knows exactly how the NBA will operate in 2017. But with continued patience, Hinkie maybe be able to take exploit of the chaos. Teams are going to overpay for players on long-term deals now, because when the salary cap jumps after 2016-2017, the contracts could be reasonable if not a bargain. To be able to sign the players, the teams need to drop salary immediately and are willing to pay a premium to do so, just like the Kings did; they gave up draft considerations and last year’s lottery pick to try to sign Rajon Rondo and Wesley Matthews, who clearly should be on the same team as DeMarcus Cousins. The Sixers are in a particularly advantageous position since, unlike the other teams that are rebuilding such as the Knicks and Lakers, there still is not an expectation in Philadelphia of a quick turnaround through free agency. Hinkie was already expected to steer clear of free agency, so he has the freedom to use the salary to help other teams facilitate free agent deals, like the Rockets; they are competing with the Spurs for Aldridge and would need to dump a few players quickly if the former Trailblazer decides to join James Harden and Dwight Howard. This is the exact situation on which Hinkie is expected to capitalize. Hopefully fans can continue to be patient as some general managers ignore the history of overpaying mid-tier stars and dump assets to do so.