By Peter Gleason

There’s lots of new on the NBA front, what with free agency beginning last night and the Sixers making moves to get to the NBA Finals next spring.

But on Saturday, the NBA announced the salary cap for the 2019-20 season would be $109.14 million, while the luxury-tax threshold is $132.627 million.

he Sixers may have to thread the needle between retaining their core and re-signing them at slight discounts.

The Sixers currently have only five players who count against their books for next season:

Joel Embiid ($27.5 million), Ben Simmons ($8.1 million), Zhaire Smith ($3.1 million), Matisse Thybulle ($2.6 million) and Jonah Bolden ($1.7 million).

Throw in seven incomplete roster charges of $898,310 each, and they could open up as much as $59.9 million in salary-cap space by renouncing all of their free agents.

However, thanks to cap holds for Jimmy Butler ($30.7 million), Tobias Harris ($22.2 million), JJ Redick ($15.9 million), Boban Marjanovic ($13.3 million), Mike Scott ($5.2 million), James Ennis ($1.6 million) and TJ McConnell ($1.6 million), Philly will operate as an over-the-cap team at the beginning of free agency.

If Butler leaves, they could still have nearly $38.6 million of cap room if they keep Harris’ cap hold on their books. If Harris leaves, they could have $30.1 million with Butler’s cap hold in place. Either way, they’d be forced to spend valuable cap room to retain their own free agents, and they’d be limited to the room mid-level exception ($4.767 million) rather than the taxpayer MLE ($5.718 million) or the non-taxpayer MLE ($9.258 million).

As such, running back the same core seems to be the Sixers’ best option in free agency. But general manager Elton Brand also must remain mindful of the apron, which could limit his ability to round out the rest of the roster.

If the Sixers hope to spend the full non-taxpayer MLE, they’ll need to stay below the apron, which is set at $138.928 million for 2019-20.

Whenever a team uses the non-taxpayer MLE, the bi-annual exception ($3.623 million) or receives a player in a sign-and-trade, it becomes prohibited from exceeding the apron at any point in that season. That’s why the Sixers should tread lightly with their mid-level exception at first, as it’d be irresponsible to dip into the non-taxpayer MLE without knowing whether Harris, Butler and Redick are returning and how much it will cost.

If both Butler and Harris sign five-year max deals to stay in Philly, the Sixers would have around $112.9 million in salary commitments on their books (including five incomplete roster charges). That’d give them roughly $26 million in breathing room before they bumped into the apron, which could quickly vanish if they retain Redick and some of their key bench players.

That’s why Brand preached financial flexibility on draft night, when he used the No. 42 overall pick to dump Jonathon Simmons’ $1 million of guaranteed salary onto the Washington Wizards.

“We need flexibility,” he told reporters. “I need every dollar that I can get.”

If the Sixers do exceed the apron, they’ll lose the ability to use the bi-annual exception and will be limited to the smaller taxpayer MLE rather than the non-taxpayer MLE. That could hinder their ability to round out their bench, which isn’t ideal for a team that struggled with depth issues in the 2018-19 season.

Convincing Butler or Harris to take slightly less than a max deal could go a long way toward helping the Sixers duck the apron. Although Brand shouldn’t lowball them to the extent that they sign elsewhere, he should explain how a $1-2 million discount could be the difference between having access to the non-taxpayer MLE or the taxpayer MLE.

Brand has his work cut out for him over the coming weeks, especially with sign-and-trade possibilities lurking for Butler. But if the Sixers successfully navigate this precarious period, they could enter the 2019-20 season on the short list of legitimate championship contenders.

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