Why is the NBA Players Union Investigating the 76ers?

Philadelphia 76ers v Houston Rockets

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The Philadelphia 76ers are doing something wrong. This is not an assertion of illegality, or an attempt to correct a managerial perspective, but simply a feeling around the greater consciousness of the NBA — they are tanking, obviously, and otherwise embracing losing in a game that is ostensibly designed to be won. This isn’t good for the psyche of fans, players, or other league associates. Whether you think this circumvents the way teams are meant to be run or not, the contentiousness of their approach can not be denied. The 76ers don’t care about regular season games, and haven’t cared about regular season games for the last couple of years.

So, when a RealGM writer went on Twitter to report that the NBPA was launching an investigation into the Sixers for possibly violating the CBA — the collective bargaining agreement that governs how the players and the teams work together — we weren’t particularly surprised. And while, as of this writing, no one has said explicitly what is being investigated, it’s not hard to guess. We’d wager a pair of 76ers season tickets (Craigslist prices, we’re not stupid) on the fact that this has to do with the salary floor and Philly’s glorious abuse of it. And, probably, Thomas Robinson.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The Sixers have been juking the salary floor (as per the CBA, teams are required to spend 90% of the salary cap or pay the difference to their rostered players) for years now. Because the NBA doesn’t check for this until the end of the year, Philly will spend the majority of the season under the cap floor, make the required moves to hit it at the trade deadline, then ride out February until July over the threshold, thereby saving themselves the money they would have to redistribute to their players if they finished out the season below it. Make sense? Remember, this is the players’ union initiating the investigation, not the league, so notions about what’s happening with Dario Saric probably don’t move the needle here.

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 27: Head coach Brett Brown of the Philadelphia 76ers waits with his team near the bench during a timeout during the game against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center on March 27, 2014 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.

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Back in February, Sean O’Connor over at LibertyBallers wrote up a wonderful piece about the shadiness that was Philly’s Thomas Robinson acquisition. In his words, when the Sixers snagged Robinson off the waivers, he put “the Sixers above the cap floor. Because they don’t have to pay his salary, the Sixers save a lot of money.” More specifically, that “players claimed off waivers are the financial responsibility of claiming teams AND are included as a season-long contract for the claiming team. When the Sixers claimed Robinson, his contract amount is included in full for the rest of the season, provided the Sixers keep him in town or, if he’s subsequently waived, another team does not claim him then.”

Robinson will be an unrestricted free agent when the 2015 NBA FA period starts. He played in 22 games for Philadelphia last season. We don’t believe it is much of a stretch (if any) to say that the power forward was signed explicitly to bolster Philly’s salary above the floor, and we’re almost certain that this is why the NBPA is investigating the 76ers. No, before you ask, this will not stop them from tanking. Nor should it, really.

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