What The De’Anthony Melton Trade Means For The Sixers’ Free-Agency Plans
The Philadelphia 76ers entered the 2022 NBA draft on Thursday night with the No. 23 overall pick. They walked out with a young, playoff-tested rotation player who can contribute to both their win-now and win-later windows.
According to multiple reports, the Sixers traded the No. 23 pick and Danny Green to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for De'Anthony Melton. The Sixers are guaranteeing Green's $10 million salary for the 2022-23 season, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, to use him as the salary ballast needed to make the trade cap-legal.
Melton should be an instant-impact addition for the Sixers on both ends of the floor. The 24-year-old averaged career highs in points (10.8), rebounds (4.5), made three-pointers (1.9) and minutes per game (22.7) with the Grizzlies this past season, and he shot a crisp 37.4 percent from deep.
Melton knocked down 40.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-point attempts last year with Memphis, and he's able to create off the dribble, too. Roughly one-third of his made field goals last season were unassisted, so he'll give the Sixers another dependable secondary creator in their backcourt.
Although Melton is listed at only 6'2" (without shoes), he measured in with a 6'8½" wingspan at the 2018 NBA combine. That length allows him to guard both backcourt positions and even switch onto wings. He should be able to play alongside either Tyrese Maxey or James Harden, and the Sixers could trot out guard-heavy lineups with all three of them at times.
Melton is also an agent of chaos on defense, much like Sixers wing Matisse Thybulle. He led all Grizzlies players with 206 deflections last year, and he has posted elite steal and block rates relative to all guards over each of his four NBA seasons. As Keith Parish of Fastbreak Breakfast noted Thursday night, Thybulle and Melton were were first and second in steal percentage and first and third in deflections per minute last year, respectively.
Green was a valuable contributor for the Sixers over the past two years, but the torn ACL and LCL that he suffered against the Miami Heat in the playoffs made him expendable. Flipping his contract and a late first-round pick for a proven veteran—aka, someone whom head coach Doc Rivers might be inclined not to bury on his bench—should help the Sixers maximize their win-now window with Joel Embiid and James Harden.
The Sixers' attention now shifts to Harden, who must decide by June 29 whether to pick up his $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 or decline it to become an unrestricted free agent. Recent reports have suggested Harden plans to opt in and then sign a short-term extension, although the terms of said deal remain unclear for now.
If Harden does pick up his option, the Sixers will have roughly $151.7 million in salary committed to 13 players. Assuming the salary cap and luxury-tax thresholds come in at $122 million and $149 million as projected, the Sixers will have less than $4 million in wiggle room before they bump into the $155.7 million luxury-tax apron.
Teams cannot use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (projected to be $10.3 million next season), the bi-annual exception ($4.1 million) or acquire a player in a sign-and-trade if any of those moves would take them over the apron. Teams that are over the apron can only use the taxpayer mid-level exception ($6.4 million) and the veteran-minimum exception ($1.8 million).
To gain access to the non-taxpayer MLE and round out their roster with a minimum deal, the Sixers would have to shed roughly $8.2 million in salary without taking any money back. Even if they salary-dumped all three of Furkan Korkmaz ($5 million), Matisse Thybulle ($4.4 million) and Georges Niang ($3.5 million), they'd have to replace that trio with minimum signings, which would leave them roughly $770,000 above the apron.
According to a source familiar with the Sixers' approach, they are not looking to salary-dump Thybulle just to gain access to the non-taxpayer MLE. (Paul Hudrick of Liberty Ballers heard likewise.) However, that could complicate their reported interest in Miami Heat forward P.J. Tucker, who plans to decline his $7.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season to become an unrestricted free agent, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
On Tuesday, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the Sixers intended to offer Tucker a three-year, $30 million contract once free agency opens next Thursday. "Things could change before the start of free agency at 6 p.m. on June 30, but league executives believe there’s a good chance Tucker will become a Sixer," he wrote.
The Sixers' draft-night acquisition of Melton perhaps made that less likely. It's difficult to imagine Tucker settling for the taxpayer MLE, which is $1 million less next season than the player option he plans to decline, especially since "multiple contending teams" are expected to offer him the full mid-level exception, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
The Sixers' free-agency plans are not just Tucker-or-bust, though. They'll have plenty of options to weigh either with the non-taxpayer MLE (if they carve out enough room under the apron to gain access to it) or the taxpayer MLE. Two-way wings should be atop their wish list, even after adding St. John's forward Julian Champagnie on a two-way deal after the draft.
The Sixers could carve out more room under the apron by convincing Harden to opt out and re-sign for less than his maximum salary or by trading Tobias Harris for a slightly smaller contract. (Charlotte Hornets forward Gordon Hayward, perhaps?) But as of now, it appears far more likely that they'll be limited to the taxpayer MLE once free agency opens at 6 p.m. on June 30.