The Philadelphia 76ers tried to make a blockbuster trade to acquire Kyle Lowry at the deadline, but couldn't meet Toronto's asking price. They seemingly moved on by acquiring Oklahoma City Thunder guard George Hill, but according to The Athletic's Sam Amick, the 76ers still have their eyes on Lowry and plan to pursue him through a sign-and-trade this offseason.
The obvious problem with doing so is that acquiring a player through a sign-and-trade will hard cap teams at the apron, which is roughly $6 million above the luxury tax line. That's a problem for the 76ers, as they have the bulk of their roster under contract for next season at market value.
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The apron this season is $138.9 million, and based on next season's cap projections, it should come in between $142-143 million. Philadelphia owes over $100 million to Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid alone. In total, they have roughly $129 million committed to 10 players. They could shed roughly $8.8 million by waiving George Hill, who has only $1.3 million or so, guaranteed, but doing so prevents them from using his salary in the sign-and-trade. Aside from fitting a player underneath the hard cap, Philadelphia would also need to send out 80 percent of Lowry's 2021-22 salary in order to legally match the incoming salary in that deal.
So, could such a deal happen? Sure, but it would be very, very costly. Lowry reportedly wanted a two-year, $50 million extension from teams interested in pursuing him at the deadline. Let's start from there. The lowest salary he could take next season to get to that figure would be roughly $24.4 million. The 76ers could match that salary by trading Hill, Seth Curry and another cheaper player (let's say Isaiah Joe at $1.5 million). They would then have just under $125 million committed to their top four of Harris, Simmons, Embiid and Lowry. Add their commitments to Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, Tyrese Maxey and Paul Reed (who is non-guaranteed, but at his price, wouldn't be waived) and you get to just under $133.8 million. If the apron is around $142 million, the 76ers could essentially fill out their roster with minimum contracts and not do much else. That means they couldn't re-sign Danny Green, who is likely to command more than the minimum, or players like Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Scott or Dwight Howard if any of them are offered more unless Lowry leaves money on the table.
There is a possible workaround, though, and it's a sneaky one. Technically, sign-and-trade contracts have to last at least three seasons, but only the first season needs to be guaranteed. The contract we discussed above would be structured simply to pay Lowry $50 million over two years with a non-guaranteed third season just to make the deal legal. If the 76ers were willing to take on a bit more of a long-term burden, though, they could feasibly lower his first-year cap hit. Say, for instance, they included a $10 million partial guarantee on the third season of Lowry's deal. Then they would only need to pay him $40 million in the first two seasons to guarantee him $50 million in total. This would be a dangerous tactic for the 76ers to take given their many long-term commitments, but if they are willing to pay a larger tax bill down the line, it's one way they could preserve at least a little bit of extra financial flexibility in building around a Simmons-Embiid-Harris-Lowry core. It may not be enough to keep Green, but it could at least unlock a portion of the taxpayer mid-level exception. The cost here would still be high, but it would be slightly more manageable in the short term.
So if Philadelphia has its heart set on Lowry, they feasibly could make the money work. The question then becomes whether or not they should. After all, the 76ers seemingly balked at Toronto's asking price at the deadline and chose to pursue Hill instead as a cheaper option. Reports indicated that aside from Green and Scott as matching salary, the Raptors were interested in some combination of Thybulle, Maxey and draft capital. If the 76ers weren't willing to give all of that up in March, why would they essentially sacrifice Curry, Hill and Green in August, in addition to whatever draft capital the Raptors might demand? Why would Daryl Morey, one of the NBA's most aggressive traders, willingly hard-cap himself for a 35-year-old point guard?
And would Lowry even agree to sign on? He is a Philadelphia native, but all reports indicate that Miami is his preferred destination. Lowry is the godfather to one of Jimmy Butler's daughters, and the Heat won't need any complicated sign-and-trade machinations to bring Lowry in. They'll have the cap space to sign him outright without gutting their depth.
All of this is to say that Lowry joining the 76ers this offseason seems unlikely. It's not impossible. Morey is a cap genius. If there is a way to bring Lowry in without depleting the rest of their team, he is the GM that is going to find it. But given Lowry's other options and the cost for Philadelphia, Lowry is probably not going to join his hometown team next season.