What will the Brooklyn Nets do?

The 76ers sent their unprotected first-round pick in the June 23 NBA draft to the Nets as part of the blockbuster deal for James Harden before the February trade deadline. However, the Nets have the option to defer the pick, taking the Sixers’ unprotected 2023 first-rounder instead.

Brooklyn has until Wednesday to make its decision.

The Sixers will have the No. 23 pick in this draft if the Nets defer until next summer. Otherwise, the team will not have a pick in the first or second round.

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Right now, the sense around the league is that Brooklyn will likely defer the pick.

That would be taking a chance on the Sixers regressing in 2022-23, giving the Nets a higher pick next summer. Based on how the Sixers’ season concluded, deferring might be a smart decision for the Nets.

There’s a lot of uncertainty about Harden’s future level of play. He looked more like a facilitator for the Sixers than he did during his tenure as a three-time scoring champion and 2018 MVP with the Houston Rockets.

While Joel Embiid had the healthiest regular season of his career, the MVP runner-up was hampered in the postseason by a torn ligament in his right thumb and an orbital fracture near his right eye. He underwent surgery Monday to repair his right thumb. He also had a separate procedure to repair an injury to his left index finger.

So there’s always the probability of Embiid getting injured and missing a chunk of regular-season games. And there’s always the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the Sixers’ roster.

Even if the Sixers finish with the league’s best record next season, Brooklyn would trade the 23rd pick in this year’s draft for No. 30 next year. That’s only a seven-spot difference. While Tyrese Maxey (selected 21st in 2020) is a gem, NBA teams rarely find difference makers late in the first round.

But the Nets could be in line to select at least a few spots better than No. 23 next year if the Sixers regress.

Keeping the pick would not be ideal for a Sixers squad with salary-cap concerns and a lack of available roster spots.

The projected NBA salary cap will be $122 million and the luxury tax level is $149 million for next season. The Sixers will have more than $140 million tied up with 12 players if Harden picks up his $47.3 million player option or refuses to take a significant discount. And that $140 million doesn’t include Danny Green’s non-guaranteed $10 million salary.

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There have been reports of the Sixers searching for a third star to pair with Embiid and Harden. The problem is, if they do that via a sign-and-trade this summer or use their $4.1 million biannual exception or the $10.3 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception, they can’t go over the $155.7 million luxury-tax apron next season.

Next season’s cap hit for the No. 23 pick is $2.5 million. For salary-cap flexibility, the Sixers would be better off taking a veteran-minimum salary-cap hit of $1.8 million.

As a result, the Sixers would likely need to trade the player selected at No. 23 or stash the player overseas if the Nets defer the pick. They’re prohibited from trading the pick until they make their selection because of a rule that prevents teams from being without a first-round pick in consecutive drafts. Teams can, however, agree on a trade before the draft and select a prospect on behalf of another team.

Meanwhile, draft-and-stash players aren’t uncommon to the Sixers. They selected Furkan Korkmaz with the 26th pick in the 2016 draft. The guard spent the 2016-17 season in Turkey before joining the Sixers as a rookie the next season. Former Sixer Dario Šarić was another draft-and-stash player. The same with Filip Petrušev, whom the team selected with the 50th overall pick in the 2021 draft. He spent this season playing in Turkey.

Perhaps the best thing cap-wise about picking draft-and-stash players is that they won’t count against the cap until they’re physically playing with the team.

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Every dollar will count for a Sixers squad looking to add toughness to the roster. Miami Heat power forward P.J. Tucker would be a solid free-agent option if he doesn’t pick up his $7.3 million option for next season.

Harden’s deadline to opt-out of the final year of his contract is June 29. The start of free agency will be at 6 p.m. the next day. Assuming Harden opts into the final year of his deal, he’ll be eligible to sign a four-year extension on Aug. 10. His contract could influence some of the Sixers’ other offseason moves.

That’s why there’s some intrigue over what the Nets decide to do with the pick.