As the euphoria that NBA games could be played soon slowly subsides, the realization that a lot of action is going to happen in an extremely quick time period sets in. Free agency and training camp are set to begin simultaneously on December 9th, with the regular season set to begin just barely two weeks later on Christmas Day. While not all of the details of the agreement have been made public, and some minor issues still left to be resolved, it is worth taking a look at some of the more prominent changes and how they immediately impact the 76ers upcoming decisions.
The most obvious change is the shortened schedule. With the season set to begin on December 25th, the NBA will fit in 66 games per team between then and April 26th, a period of 124 days. What this comes down to is an approximate 2.5 extra games per month, which means less rest, and less practice time.
The less rest would favor a young team with depth. While the Sixers are certainly young, the depth is questionable, particularly depending on what happens with the restricted free agency of Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes, and how quickly Nikola Vucevic adapts to the NBA game.
Which brings us to perhaps the more damaging part of the shortened schedule for the 76ers, shortened training camp and likely no preseason. With only 16 days between the start of camp and opening day, training camp is going to be short. This would seem to benefit veteran teams with little roster turnover. While the Sixers are largely returning the same team as last year (assuming they re-sign Young and Hawes), youth will clearly be working against them. As they rely on major contributions from Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and possibly rookie Nikola Vucevic, the lack of time Doug Collins has to get them up to speed will be tough to overcome. This is even further exacerbated by less practice time once the season starts, practice days which were already too few and far between. At the very least, the fact that young players like Vucevic and Craig Brackins have been playing (and playing fairly well) overseas should help them come into camp with their game legs.
To make matters even worse, with free agency and training camp starting at the same time in order to maximize regular season games, restricted free agents Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young will miss a considerable amount of the precious few days of training camp. While this will get Vucevic some much needed extra work early in training camp, having two major contributors in flux during the beginning of training camp will be tough on the 76ers, not to mention any potential free agents they bring in.
Salary Cap and Luxury Tax
The players are set to receive a band of 49-51% of the Basketball Related Income in future years, which will be determined based on the extent of revenue growth. This year, however, that amount is at a fixed amount of 51.15%, with a salary cap of $58.044 million and a luxury tax threshold of $70.307 million, the same figures as last year.
The Sixers currently have $54 million committed to 9 players (Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Andres Nocioni, Louis Williams, Evan Turner, Marreese Speights, Jrue Holiday, Craig Brackins and Jodie Meeks). They'll also likely sign Nikolas Vucevic for around $1.6 million, which puts them at approximately $55.6 million.
They also have qualifying offers out for Thaddeus Young (around $3.9 million) and Spencer Hawes (around $4 million). With that said, the cap hold for these players will be higher than their qualifying offer. Under the previous CBA, the cap hold for restricted free agents where their last year in their rookie contract is less than the league average salary (which both Hawes and Young were) was either their qualifying offer or 300% of the last year of their rookie contract , whichever is greater. That would put the cap hold for Young at ~$8.7 million and the cap hold for Hawes at ~$8.9 million. This has been reduced to 250%, which would reduce the cap holds for Young and Hawes to ~$7.2 million and ~$7.4 million, respectively. Meaning the Sixers effectively have a salary of $70.2 million until Hawes and Young are signed, or receive an offer sheet with another team. However, it's not yet known for sure whether this free agency period will use the prior cap hold rules, so this salary figure could be as high as $73.2 million. This doesn't mean the Sixers will be paying the luxury tax, as that's just a cap hold, but it does affect their salary cap space until movement is made on the restricted free agents.
The term amnesty clause may be familiar to NBA fans, as the league introduced this concept back in the 2005 CBA negotiations, which was later dubbed the Allan Houston rule. This iteration of the rule is much more powerful, however. While the previous incarnation of the rule allowed for teams to release a player and no longer have their contract count against the luxury tax, this version of the rule will clear the entire contract off the teams salary cap calculations (as well as luxury tax), and possibly even get them out of paying for some of the contract. Furthermore, while the 2005 version of the rule forced teams to use the clause in a two week window, this version can be used only once over the duration of the CBA, but it can be used prior to any season of the CBA, although it can only be used for contracts that existed prior to the CBA existing. In otherwords, the Sixers can't sign Thaddeus Young to a contract then in two years amnesty him.
Once released, the entire players salary is no longer counted against salary cap or luxury tax calculations, and the player goes into a silent auction. Teams are then able to bid for the player, and the winning bidder would pay the amount they bid (but not all) of the players existing contract, with the releasing team on the hook for the rest. So if the Sixers release Andres Nocioni and somebody bids $3 million for him, the Sixers would pay $3.65 million of Nocioni's contract, but none of it would count against their salary cap or luxury tax. If nobody bids on Nocioni, the Sixers would still pay for his entire $6.65 million contract, but none of it would still count against the salary cap or luxury tax.
For those hoping the Sixers use the amnesty clause on Elton Brand or Andre Iguodala to make a major change in the direction of the franchise, they're likely to be disappointed. Every person with knowledge of the situation I have talked to has stated that if the clause is used this year, Andres Nocioni is the most likely suspect, and the only real plausible one.
In theory, if the Sixers renounced the qualifying offers for Young and Hawes and used the amnesty clause on Nocioni, their cap number could be as low as $47.35 million, which would give them over $10 million in cap space to play with this free agency period. Using the amnesty on Brand instead of Nocioni would give them an additional $11.5 million to play with and put them well under the cap. That being said, don't expect that to happen. It is much more likely Young and Hawes are re-signed, Brand and Iguodala return, and Nocioni is gone with the amnesty clause to give them additional flexibility to use the mid-level exception.
I am also hearing there will be less use of the amnesty clause during this offseason than many expect, especially since it can be saved for use in subsequent years.
Mid-level exception changes
There are now two mid-level exceptions, one for tax-paying teams and one for non-tax paying teams. For this coming free agency period, the mid-level for non-tax paying teams will be a 4 year deals starting at $5 million. For tax-pays, the mini-mid-level will be a 3 year deal starting at $3 million.
This comes into play with the Sixers since they will likely be over the cap (barring a surprising renouncing of Hawes and/or Young's qualifying offers), but under the luxury tax (barring Hawes + Young getting extensions in excess of $14 million combined).
There's also one added exception. In prior CBA's, teams that were under the cap by less than the mid-level exception were considered over the cap, and had the rights to use the mid-level. However, teams that were under the cap by more than the mid-level would never get the exception, meaning a team like Miami would use its entire salary cap space then only be able to sign guys to veterans minimum deals. Now, teams that use their available cap space gain an exception, a 2 year deal starting at $2.5 million in salary.
Restricted free agency changes
With two major contributors coming into the season as restricted free agents, this has a major impact on the 76ers, especially with training camp and free agency starting at the same time.
Under the previous CBA, restricted free agents who signed an offer sheet with another team could be in limbo for up to a week as the previous team decided whether to match the offer, a condition which scared many teams off from making offers to restricted free agents as they did not want their salary cap space tied up for that long, and increased the leverage of the free agents previous team, making it more likely for them to get a deal advantageous for them. Teams now only have 3 days to match an offer, and with training camp starting at the same time as free agency teams are even more likely to make a quick decision on restricted free agents that signed an offer sheet.
What this means is that teams are more likely to be aggressive in pursuing restricted free agents, which could drive up the price for Spencer Hawes or, more likely, Thaddeus Young. The Sixers lost a bit of bargaining power with this change, which could be further affected by the increased flexibility the amnesty clause provides.
Various odds and ends
- Starting in year 3 of the new CBA the luxury tax will be more punitive than in the past. Rather than the dollar-for-dollar tax for teams over the luxury tax limit in the past, teams will be penalized anywhere between $1.50 per dollar over and $3.25 per dollar over, meaning the Lakers, which were around $21 million over the luxury tax limit last year, would have paid around $68 million in tax rather than the $21 million they paid.
- The Bi-Annual (or low-level) exception can only be used for non-tax paying teams.
- Maximum length of contracts are 5 years for Bird players (down from 6), and 4 years for non-Bird players (down from 5). This will affect the contracts Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes can receive, and what the Sixers would match if they received on offer sheet.
- Extensions are limited to 4 years total.
- Increases are limited to 7.5% for Bird players, 4.5% for other players.