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Capology 101: Ben Simmons Freeway Theory Edition

Have you heard about Ben Simmons wanting out of Philadelphia? Yes? Well... let’s discuss some of the salary cap-related items surrounding the latest unhappy NBA player.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Editor’s Note: It brings me great joy to announce that Logan Alten has officially joined the staff here at Canis Hoopus! Logan is originally from Thief River Falls, MN but now resides in Minneapolis. According to sources close to Logan, he is an avid dancer (salsa, country, and east coast swing) and spent four years serving in the Marine Corps.

Logan is a fantastic young writer and an even better human being, and I’m really excited to be able to add him to our community and staff here at Canis. Welcome, Logan!

Hi guys. I was wondering how to start my tenure at the amazing place known as Canis Hoopus. I could have hyped up Jordan McLaughlin like everyone would want. I could have rambled on about the Iowa Wolves and how they’re destined to be great this season. I could have even written 5000 words on why tanking for Minnesota’s own Chet Holmgren could be something worth considering. But...because there has not been nearly enough talk about him, I figured we needed a fresh Ben Simmons article!

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to focus much on the on-court product of what the Wolves plus Ben Simmons could look like. My good pal Jack Borman has already knocked that out of the park and then some here.

No, this will be focusing on the nerdier side of things, the NBA salary cap, trade rules, how they apply to potential Ben Simmons trades, and how that may help or hurt the Minnesota Timberwolves’ chances of landing the disgruntled star.

As we all know, Ben Simmons had his phone in his pocket at practice, and well, that basically means we’re days away from Minnesota trading for him. Simmons has returned to Philly for now and if the Jimmy Bulter and James Harden experience is any indicator, Simmons isn’t going to be there very long. Nothing has changed on the Wolves front though. They’re still very openly pining for him and will likely need a third team to give their rebuilding assets to for the win-now piece(s) Philly wants.

Now for the fun part, the different cap rules that affect the Ben Simmons market. In “How I Met Your Mother” Barney has a “Freeway Theory” illustrating the various possible exits to get out of the relationship. Barney has seven, Ben Simmons and Philly have four but we are going to make an exception for Patrick Beverley and call it five.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Exit One: The Recently Traded Player Restriction

This only really applies to Minnesota, for now. The recently traded player restriction applies, as stated in its name, to recently traded players. Players that have been recently traded cannot be combined with other players in a trade for 60 days. They can be traded individually though (see Patrick Beverley being traded to Memphis and then almost immediately being traded to Minnesota). However, this does apply to Patrick Beverley, and by extension former Timberwolves movie star Juancho Hernangomez. Patrick Beverley will be able to be added in a trade with other players on October 24th.

How this helps Minnesota: It gives them one more salary ballast to include should Philly and a potential third team not be interested in D’Angelo Russell or a Taurean Prince and Malik Beasley-centered package.

How this hurts Minnesota: It means that they could potentially lose a great locker room veteran and that they now have to compete with a potential Juancho Hernangomez-centered offer.

Exit Two: The Recently Signed via Non-Bird Rights Restriction

There are two different recently signed restrictions, one for non-bird rights and one for bird rights. The best rule of thumb for differentiating the two is if Player X was on your team before free agency and was re-signed, they are likely in the bird rights boat. If they were not, they were in this boat.

The non-bird rights signees can be traded on and after December 15th. That means guys like Kyle Lowry, Lonzo Ball, and Kemba Walker are now on the table should their teams be targeting Ben Simmons.

How this helps Minnesota: It adds more available options for creative trades. While there aren’t necessarily stars that are freed up from this (Lowry or Ball being included in a Simmons trade is pretty unlikely) supplemental pieces like Lauri Markkanen, Daniel Theis, Kelly Olynyk, and Kelly Oubre become available.

How this hurts Minnesota: Teams that have what Philly wants (think the Portland Trailblazers and CJ McCollum) may be able to retool a trade offer around these new available trade pieces to better suit what Philly wants.

Philadelphia 76ers v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Exit Three: The Recently Signed via Bird or Early Bird Rights Restriction

If a player is re-signed via bird or early bird rights and it causes the team to go over the salary cap, that player cannot be traded until January 15th. This applies to guys like Jarrett Allen, John Collins, and Mike Conley. Minnesota’s own Jarred Vanderbilt and Jordan McLaughlin also are now available.

How this helps Minnesota: By now we’ve all gotten grey hairs waiting for the Ben Simmons will they won’t they thing. This finally opens up more potential middleman teams should any of the stars above be available for a rebuilding package. This also makes practically every player “tradeable” (with a handful of exceptions).

How this hurts Minnesota: One of the biggest threats to Minnesota, the Cleveland Cavaliers, now have both Jarrett Allen and Lauri Markkanen available for trade, as well as Collin Sexton. Similarly, every other team competing with Minnesota in the sweepstakes has the same access to every freshly made available player. That paired with Minnesota’s pick looking like it’d be the 30th pick in the draft could really hurt if the talks drag out this long.

Exit Four: The NBA Trade Deadline

This one is pretty self-explanatory — once the NBA Trade Deadline passes, teams are mostly stuck with what they have got (with the exception of buyouts and other miscellaneous signings). Should the deadline pass with Simmons still being a 76er, that is probably a doomsday scenario for Minnesota.

How this helps Minnesota: At this point, Philly has either made amends with Ben Simmons or things have become Jimmy Butler times five. They could probably land him at a deep discount in the offseason.

Update... amends have not been made:

How this hurts Minnesota: In the offseason Patrick Beverly, Josh Okogie, Jake Layman, and Taurean Prince expire. They can be dealt via a sign and trade but in a sign and trade, you cannot combine players/salaries which takes them out of the picture. This means a Simmons trade now has to include either D’Angelo Russell or Malik Beasley and almost every non-Russell, Anthony Edwards, and Karl-Anthony Towns player on the roster just to make the salaries work.

Exit Five: The 2022 Offseason

This is significant for a myriad of reasons. Expiring contracts (aside from star sign-and-trade options) are no longer a factor as they’re now free agents and exit two and three will soon apply to them. Drafted players/solidified picks are more readily available. But, the main thing the offseason offers is players that signed extensions this season are now either tradeable or more easily tradeable.

There are two types of extensions, rookie extensions, and veteran extensions. Rookie extensions are for players coming off of their rookie deals the year before their contract would be up and they’d hit restricted free agency. They’re tradeable but subject to the poison pill provision. This means that for trade purposes their current salary is counted as their outgoing salary and the average of their extension and their current salary is counted as their incoming salary. This means that if Mikal Bridges was traded he’d count as $5,557,725 outgoing for Phoenix and $19,111,545 incoming for Philly. Now that the offseason has hit their contracts would no longer be subject to the poison pill provision and they’d be on the first year of their extension.

The other type of extension is the veteran extension. This applies to guys like Steph Curry, Aaron Gordon, Kevin Durant, Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, Terry Rozier, and Julius Randle. Unlike the rookie extension (whose deadline was 10/18), the veteran extension has no deadline. A player signed to a veteran extension cannot be traded for six months. This means throughout the year, despite Brooklyn and Golden State being tempted, they cannot trade Curry or Durant for Simmons until the offseason comes. Though Rozier, Smart, Gordon, and Randle could be tempting.

How this helps Minnesota: Finally even more stars are available should they still need a middle man. They also should hopefully have more of an idea of how the roster works and if they even want Ben Simmons.

How this hurts Minnesota: As mentioned on the last exit, they’re suddenly very short on contracts they could use to match salaries. The offseason allows for more freedom for teams with cap space, teams like Charlotte and Indiana that gain the ability to trade Terry Rozier and Malcolm Brogdon respectively, and teams with high picks to potentially steal Simmons from the Wolves.

As you may have gleaned, it is in Minnesota’s favor to get the deal done as soon as possible. As more time passes and as these “exits” get passed it’s increasingly more favorable to their competition while marginally benefiting the Wolves. Thankfully, it’s also in Philly’s and Ben Simmons’ best interest to make a trade sooner rather than later too. There are still many obstacles for the Wolves to go through for them to even have an offer Philly wants, such as a third-team with an All-Star caliber Simmons replacement. For now though there is a very exciting team to watch!