Not only were the Philadelphia 76ers nearly $22 million below the salary cap line entering Thursday’s trade deadline, the team was also almost $12 million below the salary cap minimum. That’s a floor that no other NBA team had dug beneath since that relatively unheard of cap was established in 1999, with some squads even making minor moves in rebuilding years just to move above it.
That changed last season, when the tanking Sixers happily stayed beneath the minimum. And the Sixers would have gotten away with it this year as well, had they not just dealt for JaVale McGee on Thursday.
This is tanking at its best.
Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski was the first to report that the Sixers will deal for McGee and his $11.25 million contract to both near that minimum cap and take in a first-round pick from the Nuggets along the way. The penalty for staying below the minimum line isn’t all that severe; teams only have to redistribute the difference between the final payroll number and the minimum cap number amongst the players left on the roster. The real kicker here for Philly is gaining yet another draft pick to work with.
McGee’s salary nearly doubles that of the second-highest paid player on the Sixers’ roster, that of Jason Richardson – making around the NBA league average this year. He’ll join Nerlens Noel and the “rehabbing” Joel Embiid as another raw 76ers big man that can jump real high and block a lot of shots and not do a whole hell of a lot of other things.
The issue with McGee, in this instance, is that this raw big man is in his seventh NBA season. He’ll be in his eighth next year when he also makes $11.25 million for the Sixers, and he is currently the only 76er who won’t be working on a rookie contract next season. McGee has played in just 22 games over the last two years, and though the center has had his moments, he is best known for his perpetual inclusions on blooper reels. How former Denver Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri won an NBA Executive of the Year award just 10 months after signing McGee to a four-year, $44 million contract will remain a secret that only the otherwise-highly regarded Ujiri will know.
The Nuggets, after a miserable year and a half attempting to win in the wake of Ujiri and George Karl’s departure from the team, are looking to start over. Their deadline day is likely done …
Unless something else emerges between now and deadline, Denver is done dealing today, league source tells Yahoo.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 19, 2015
… but not after dealing Arron Afflalo to Portland to start Thursday, and sending Timofey Mozgov to the Cavaliers for a pair of conditional first-round picks that both the Thunder and Grizzlies owed Cleveland. The selection sent to Philadelphia is Oklahoma City's, top 18 protected this year and then top 15 protected in 2016 and 2017.
If the Thunder rank below those numbers in the standings, the pick then becomes two second-round picks in 2018. Denver may kick itself years down the line in acting so anxious to get McGee’s contract off the books, but before these ghost assets turn into real people it’s hard to judge this move too harshly on Denver’s side of things. The team will also have significant cap space this summer as a result of their work.
Whether or not JaVale McGee’s NBA presence remains ghostly is up for debate, as the Sixers could buy him out or attempt to work with him. It’s feasible that a new coach, new system and new start to things could turn him into a contributor once again, but we’ve said that far too many times over the course of his seven seasons, six (now seven) coaches, and three teams. The Nuggets were willing to part with a piece of their future in order to make JaVale McGee part of their past. That’s sadly telling.
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