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In the opening minutes of the Philadelphia 76ers’ Game 6 loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Thursday night, swingman Danny Green suffered what was feared to be a serious knee injury. Those fears were confirmed Friday, as the team announced that the 13-year veteran tore both his ACL and LCL in his left knee.
It’s a devastating blow to both Green and the Sixers, as he now figures to be sidelined for most or all of the 2022-23 season. That raises some unfortunate questions about his immediate future in Philadelphia.
Green’s $10 million salary for next season is fully nonguaranteed until July 1. That gives the Sixers less than two months to figure out what to do with him.
They have three main options to consider: waiving him by July 1, guaranteeing his salary and trading him, or keeping him past July 1.
During exit interviews Friday, team president Daryl Morey was noncommittal about Green’s future. But now that they know his diagnosis, the Sixers will likely waive him before his salary becomes guaranteed on July 1. They can’t afford to commit $10 million and a roster spot to someone who won’t play for most or all of next season.
Waiving Green wouldn’t only help trim down the Sixers’ luxury-tax bill for next season. Depending on the structure of James Harden’s next contract, it could enable them to have access to the larger non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($10.3 million) and bi-annual exception ($4.1 million) rather than only the taxpayer MLE ($6.4 million).
Not counting Harden and Green, the Sixers currently have 11 players under contract for next season at roughly $96.1 million. The luxury-tax apron is projected to be just south of $155.7 million, which is the line that no team can cross if it uses either the NTMLE or BAE in a given season.
If Harden picks up his $47.4 million player option or signs a five-year max deal with a starting salary of $46.5 million, the Sixers wouldn’t have enough space under the apron to use the full NTMLE and BAE even if they waive Green. But if Harden takes slightly less than that—say, a starting salary of $40 million—the Sixers would have enough room under the apron to use both the NTMLE and BAE if they waived Green.
If the Sixers keep Green on their books at $10 million, they’d have $106.1 million committed to 12 players before factoring in Harden. Even if Harden took $40 million instead of his full max starting salary, they’d have less than $10 million in breathing room before hitting the apron. That means they couldn’t use their full NTMLE and/or would have to forgo using the BAE barring other changes to the roster.
Considering how much the Sixers need to bolster their supporting cast this offseason, keeping Green as a $10 million placeholder is likely a non-starter. However, there are a few reasons why they might consider it.
Guaranteeing Green’s Salary and Trading Him
Under the NBA’s old collective bargaining agreement, a player’s outgoing salary for trade purposes included nonguaranteed salary. In other words, had the Sixers traded Green between now and July 1, he would have counted as $10 million in outgoing salary even though his new team could immediately waive him and free up $10 million in cap space.
The current collective bargaining agreement closed that loophole. Unless the Sixers guarantee Green’s salary for next season, he’ll count as $0 in outgoing salary in a trade, which effectively defeats the purpose of trading him.
The Sixers can explore their options over the next month-and-a-half before waiving Green. If another team is looking to dump a player on an unenviable multiyear contract, it might be willing to exchange him for Green’s expiring deal for future cap relief alone. The Sixers would need to weigh the opportunity cost of that, though.
Unless Harden takes a gargantuan discount on his next contract, trading Green for a similarly paid player would push the Sixers too close to the apron for them to use the NTMLE or BAE. They’d have to decide whether they’d be better off with that player and whomever they sign with the TMLE versus having access to both the NTMLE and BAE.
The Sixers could always keep Green beyond July 1 in the hopes of a) him returning by next year’s playoffs or b) trading him at some point during the 2022-23 season.
They have yet release a timetable for Green’s recovery, but time is working against the soon-to-be 35-year-old. Jamal Murray missed the entire 2021-22 season after tearing his ACL in mid-April last year, while Kawhi Leonard missed the entire 2021-22 season after undergoing surgery to repair a partial ACL tear last July.
Even if Green does return at some point next season, it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll be able to provide the same two-way impact. The Sixers need a contingency plan in place either way.
If the Sixers shop Green but can’t find a taker by July 1, they could keep him on their books in the hopes of trading him later. His contract is their best salary-matching chip for trades at the moment.
Since the Sixers will likely be over the luxury-tax threshold next season, they can bring in no more than 125 percent plus $100,000 of the salary they send out. If they guaranteed Green’s salary for next season and then traded him by himself, they could receive a player earning no more than $12.1 million in return. But if they packaged him with Furkan Korkmaz ($5.0 million next season), Matisse Thybulle ($4.4 million) or one of their younger players, they could bring back a slightly higher-paid player.
Knowing that Green isn’t likely to play next season, it’s difficult to imagine anyone will be interested in taking on his $10 million salary. The most likely outcome is the Sixers waiving him by July 1, unfortunately. However, they should still aim to keep Green in their building, so long as the NBA allows it.
The CBA prohibits teams from having “a financial arrangement with or offer a financial inducement to any player (not including retired players) not signed to a current player contract.” That might prevent the Sixers from offering Green a paid assistant coaching position this season, especially if they hoped to re-sign him in 2023-24 once he recovers from his injury.
If nothing else, the Sixers and NBA should collaborate to ensure that Green can use their medical staff and facilities to aid his recovery even if they waive him by July 1. This devastating injury will likely spend the end of his time with the Sixers, though.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac. All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook.