Why the Sixers prioritized flexibility over Charles Bassey, Isaiah Joe

Heading into the 2022-23 NBA season, the Philadelphia 76ers faced a void. Even after waiving Trevelin Queen during training camp, they had 16 players under contract (not including their two-way players), which is one over the 15-man regular season limit.

To remedy this, the Sixers waived third-year sharpshooter Isaiah Joe and second-year center Charles Bassey before the season began, leaving an open roster spot heading into the year. Joe quickly signed a three-year, $6 million contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, while the San Antonio Spurs signed Bassey to a two-way deal.

Both Joe and Bassey have impressed in their respective new homes, which could make the Sixers feel a bit of seller’s remorse. However, they had to balance their short-term and long-term prospects heading into the season, which explains why they prioritized financial flexibility over two relatively unproven prospects.

Because the Sixers signed PJ Tucker using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception and Danuel House Jr. using the semi-annual exception this summer, they have a hard cap from now until June 30. That means they cannot exceed the league’s $156.983 million luxury tax cap at any time throughout the remainder of this league year under any circumstances.

The Sixers currently have 14 players under contract for a total cost of $151.4 million, leaving them roughly $5.5 million under the apron. They also have an open roster spot, which they can use to sign players to a 10-day contract beginning Jan. 5 or complete an unbalanced deal before the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline.

However, they need to take advantage of that flexibility to justify the decision to cut bait on Bassey and Joe.

Bassey did not play in six of the Spurs’ first seven games, but he has since played a relatively stable role in the team’s rotation. After his five-point, 14-rebound, four-block outing against the shorthanded Milwaukee Bucks in mid-November, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich praised the young big man in typical Pop fashion.

“He was something else today,” Popovich told reporters. “He just plays. He doesn’t know what the hell we’re doing, but he picks up plays quickly and he plays hard. He knows his role, he rebounds, he blocks shots, he runs the floor and he does it with a lot of energy .”

The Sixers’ decision to waive Bassey was somewhat curious given their year-long struggle to find a competent backup to star center Joel Embiid. Bassey made just 23 regular season appearances for them as a rookie, but he had obvious rim-protecting upside with his 6’11”, 235-pound frame.

For most of the offseason, Bassey seemed poised to battle third-year big man Paul Reed for the Sixers’ backup center role. But when Sixers veteran Montrezl Harrell received a fully guaranteed veteran minimum contract in mid-September, it complicated Bassey’s path to a permanent roster spot.

Only $74,742 of Bassey’s roughly $1.6 million salary for the 2022-23 season was fully guaranteed heading into training camp. By giving him up, the Sixers shaved nearly $1.5 million off their books. They seemed to prioritize that over fielding a developmental center who might have been their fourth-string option behind Embiid, Harrell and Reed.

Going to the rebuilding Spurs may have been the best thing for Bassey’s career as well. Instead of being buried deep on the bench in Philadelphia, he gets to learn on the fly while learning from one of the best coaches in NBA history.

“As a child I wanted to play for [Popovich]”, he told reporters in mid-November. “That’s the coach you want to play for, go hard for. He’s just so calm. When we win or lose, he’s calm and he says the right words – the right things to a player that makes you want to go crazy in a game. Being a part of this team is just a blessing.”

Joe is likewise making his impact felt in limited minutes on the rebuilding Thunder. He is averaging a career-high 6.8 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.7 three-pointers in just 11.9 minutes per game, while shooting a whopping 46.2 percent from deep. In his 96 regular season appearances with the Sixers, Joe knocked down a total of 84 three-pointers while shooting just 34.9 percent from downtown.

Had Joe gotten more reps alongside an elite passer like James Harden, it’s fair to wonder if he would have eventually broken out in Philadelphia as well. However, he faced an uphill battle to crack the Sixers’ full-strength rotation. The offseason acquisition of De’Anthony Melton pushed him down the backcourt, so he would have competed for scraps with Furkan Korkmaz and Jaden Springer.

Joe’s $1.8 million contract with the Sixers was completely non-guaranteed until opening night, so the Sixers incurred no dead cap by waiving him. Had they kept him on the roster beyond opening night and waived him later in the season, his $1.8 million cap hit would have stayed on the books and pushed them closer to the luxury tax apron.

Seeing Joe and Bassey find their footing in Oklahoma City and San Antonio may frustrate Sixers fans, but there’s no guarantee they would have done the same had they stayed in Philadelphia. They likely would have been buried on the bench and would have spent the year shuffling between the Sixers and the G League.

If the Sixers take advantage of the extra cap space and financial flexibility they gained by waiving both Bassey and Joe, it could end up being the best for all sides. But if they don’t make a significant addition, it would be fair to wonder if they should have just kept either Joe or Bassey instead.

Unless otherwise stated, all statistics via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the glass or Basketball reference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM. All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook.

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