Sixers owner Josh Harris ready for a LeBron James-sized bill as free agency approaches

Could these two be teammates next season?

The 76ers will have their share of roster upgrade options in the coming months. Among them will be trying to lure LeBron James in free agency.

The addition of James would drastically close the gap between them and the Boston Celtics in regards to being the Eastern Conference’s team to beat next season. Should they add another A-list player in free agency or via a trade, the Sixers just might be favored to win the 2018-19 NBA title.

But acquiring James alone would be costly.

Team president of basketball operation and general manager Bryan Colangelo said the Sixers could have roughly $25 million available in cap space to attract free agents. However, league records show they could have up to $30 million available in practical cap space. James is projected to make at least $35 million next season.

So the Sixers would have to find ways to fit him under their cap, possibly by dumping salaries as a way to create enough space to give him what he’ll be asking. One option would be to waive Jerryd Bayless, who has one year left on his deal. They could stretch his $8.6 million salary over three years in the books in order to free up more money.

The Sixers cap could take a hit in the future by signing an A-list free agent to a multi-year deal. Under that circumstance, they would have to pay a luxury tax in order to give Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and Markelle Fultz lucrative extensions if their new contracts don’t fit under the cap when that time comes.

“I think the bar is very high for us in terms of who we are going to put on this team,” Sixers co-managing partner Josh Harris said. “But on the other hand, for a certain small number of players, like we are going to go after them hard.

“People have asked me about the luxury tax.  I don’t have any problem spending for good players.”

Camera icon CHARLES FOX
Bryan Colangelo, left, with managing general partner Josh Harris’ full support, dramatically increased the Sixers’ use of analytics after becoming the team’s general manager.

The Sixers can’t publicly say so until July 1, but it doesn’t take an engineering degree to realize the team is prepared to do whatever it takes to sign James, a four-time league MVP. Oklahoma City small forward Paul George is another free agent the Sixers  have interest in, according to folks around the league. He would be a great fit because of his ability to shoot the ball and defend.

Don’t be surprised if they also try to acquire San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard in a trade.  Sources have said the Sixers have expressed interest in the two-time all-star. While he is eligible for a five-year, $219-million “super-max” extension with the Spurs this summer, there are reports that Leonard wants out after staying away from the team for most of the season with a quad injury. He played in only nine games.

Leonard has a great relationship with Sixers coach Brett Brown. However, trading for him would be risky without first getting a guarantee that he’ll agree to a contract extension.  Leonard is set to become a free agent on July 1, 2019.

But even without him, this team’s rotation is expected to undergo a drastic facelift just to make room for an A-list free agent.

The Sixers have a cap hold of $27.6 million for JJ Redick. They also have a $13.2 million one for Amir Johnson, while having ones for $1.5 million each for Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli.

The Sixers must renounce the rights to Redick, Johnson, Belinelli and Ilyasova to create cap room. They could decide to bring a couple of those players back for veteran minimum contracts or mid-level deals.

But one has to assume Redick would pass up a mid-level deal around $5 million for next season.  Some might argue that the Sixers overpaid for him at $23 million this season. But coming off a career year, he could get somewhere around $12 to 15 million for next season.

Camera icon MATT SLOCUM / AP
It would be difficult for the Sixers to keep JJ Redick and sign LeBron James.

At 33 years old, one has to assume that Redick is interested in getting at least one more lucrative deal. The same for Johnson, 31, who just completed his 13th season.

Colangelo said an option could be re-sign some of the players for next season and go hard after free agents in 2019.

He realizes that Redick, Johnson, Belinelli, and Ilyasova had major roles in this season’s success.

Letting them go, especially, Redick, would set the team back if they’re unable to lure an A-list free agent.

James and George could both end up with the Los Angeles Lakers. Meanwhile, all-star shooting guard Klay Thompson is reportedly discussing a contract extension with the Golden State Warriors.

Time will tell what the Sixers do.

But they know their roster, as it stands, isn’t good enough to win a title or defeat the Celtics in a playoff series next season.  That’s why the Sixers are striving to add James or another A-list free agent.

“We have a core that’s going to grow, but if the right person comes, you have to be very opportunistic,” Harris said. “Because there’s not that many people [who are franchise changers]. There really isn’t.”

Bolden joining Sixers?

Camera icon Young Kwa / AP
Jonah Bolden (43) shoots a free throw for UCLA during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Gonzaga, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Spokane, Wash.

Jonah Bolden is likely to join the 76ers this upcoming season, Colangelo revealed on Friday.

Lack of a roster spot was the main reason the 6-foot-10 athletic power forward didn’t join the Sixers this season after being selected 36th overall by the team in the 2017 draft.

So Bolden signed a three-year contract on July 21 with Maccabi Tel Aviv, which plays in the Israeli Premier League and EuroLeague. He averaged 6.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 21.1 minutes in 29 EuroLeague games — with 28 starts. Bolden shot 31.9 percent on three-pointers.

The Australian has an NBA-out clause in his contract that will allow him to join the Sixers next season. Colangelo called him a modern-day big man.

“Can step out and shoot a three,” Colangelo said. “His shooting numbers have gone down a little bit this year, but that, we don’t believe, is an indication of who he is as a player or a shooter. He’s a grab-and-go guy.

“He can rebound the ball very well instinctively. Can handle it in transition, make good decisions. You don’t want to put him in that situation every day, but he’s a grab-and-go guy that can move the basketball.”

The 22-year-old averaged 8.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.4 blocks in 23.4 minutes per game with Sixers 2017 summer-league team.