This article was originally published in the Inquirer on February 21, 2001.
Basking in the luxury of holding the league's best record despite an abundance of injuries, the 76ers still find themselves in the position of having to keep up with the Joneses as tomorrow's 6 p.m. NBA trading deadline nears.
Like most teams, the Sixers are interested in making moves. Like most teams, they probably will be unable to do so. Exorbitant salaries, an impending luxury tax, and the dreaded term "base-year compensation" are to blame.
At a time when this billion-dollar industry called the NBA is supposed to be primed for wheeling and dealing, most league general managers could easily take a vacation in Maui. It's not as if anyone would miss them.
In Philadelphia, all the evidence anyone needs is easy to see.
Dealing center Matt Geiger has been on the Sixers' minds since November. But Geiger has been injured, he makes too much money ($7.5 million this season) and has a 15 percent trade kicker - money he would get up front - that no one wants to touch.
Toni Kukoc is in the first year of a four-year, $29 million deal with a 15 percent trade kicker. But he also is a base-year compensation player, which means essentially that the Sixers can give away his $7 million salary this season but can get back only $4.5 million.
The underlying mystery involves Sixers coach Larry Brown, who, despite his success this season, has failed to extensively use Nazr Mohammed to increase his trade value. Yet he wonders why teams haven't had his phone ringing off the hook in attempts to take the third-year center off his hands.
Besides that, there's nothing. No rumors. No innuendo. Little intrigue.
No wonder Sixers general manager Billy King has been so pleasant the last few weeks. Minimal inquiries are King's definition of Christmas.
"I think you always have to look for opportunities to improve your team," said Brown, who hasn't ruled out making a deal. "But you've just got to get in a situation where you know what you have, and are you confident enough that this group can get it done and then go from there.
"I would never hesitate to make a trade if it will make us better. I'm not climbing up Billy King's back to say, 'Hey, we've got to do something. ' I just think the consensus is, 'Let's listen. ' And if something presents itself that makes us better, consider it.
"But it's not a situation where I'm uncomfortable with this roster for the rest of the season, providing we can be healthy. The only thing is, there are a couple of young kids I'd like to see have a chance to play somewhere. But, again, if that's not possible, it's not the end of the world that they're here. "
Especially since no one else has them.
The Miami Heat, when not pursuing a big man like Chicago's Brad Miller, worries that Tim Hardaway will not last for the playoffs. Miami has talked to the Vancouver Grizzlies about guard Mike Bibby. The New York Knicks don't want Miami to get Bibby.
Washington Wizards guard Rod Strickland's name has been bandied. After Dikembe Mutombo's 22-rebound performance in the All-Star Game, the Atlanta Hawks have fluctuated between moving his $14.4 million salary by tomorrow or waiting until summer to work out a sign-and-trade deal.
Seattle is said to be willing to move Gary Payton, but may not do so until this summer because Payton's $12.2 million salary is too difficult to move at this time of year. Jason Kidd apparently is not untouchable in Phoenix. The Indiana Pacers would love to get rid of Austin Croshere.
But pick a case, and logistics and legalese come into play. General managers want to receive maximum value for a player but can't because of their base-year status. Owners don't want to exceed their team's salary caps because of the luxury tax, scheduled for this summer, that will penalize them dollar-for-dollar the amount that exceeds a certain percentage over the cap.
Meanwhile, the players are more determined than ever to get paid, because 10 percent of their salaries are about to be allocated to an escrow account for the owners beginning next season.
"It's a mess," one league GM said. "I'd be surprised if any significant moves are made by Thursday. "
It should be of no concern to the Sixers. In Allen Iverson and crew, they have more than their Eastern Conference counterparts. Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don't make.
"I think you've always got to listen, but I don't think a lot of people are talking," Brown said. "It's not like it was in the past at this time; there hasn't been a lot of conversation. I was hoping we'd hear from some people about our bench, but . . . I'm happy with the team. "