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June 21, 2022

NBA rumors: Sixers 'in the mix' for PJ Tucker, 'interested' in Eric Gordon

If you've missed the NBA's silly season, don't worry, the next few weeks are about to give you all the rumors and speculation you could possibly ask for. And if anyone can get us started on that front, it's the man who brought you 'The Deal Zone' before the trade deadline this year, insisting a James Harden deal was in the works before others were confident it would get done.

During an appearance on ESPN this Tuesday, Brian Windhorst touched on a number of notable rumors heading into the draft. We'll focus on a pair of players Daryl Morey is intimately familiar with from his time in Houston, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker:

Keep an eye on the Houston Rockets, they've already done one deal this offseason. Look for a little bit Eric Gordon sweepstakes in play. A couple of teams I've heard interested: the Philadelphia 76ers and the Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul looking for a potential reunion with his former teammate there. Philadelphia also in the mix for P.J. Tucker, by the way, just opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat. [ESPN]

Those are two very different names in what they represent in both playing style and opportunity cost, and it's that last bit that should give anyone pause when considering Gordon for the Sixers specifically.

At his individual peak, which came fairly early in his career, Gordon was a routine 20-point per game scorer who could hurt you from all areas of the floor. Considered the centerpiece of the deal that brought Chris Paul to Los Angeles, knee issues slowed Gordon down during his early years with the Pelicans, causing him problems and forcing Gordon to miss a lot of time between 2011-2016. When healthy, Gordon was able to show flashes of the scoring ability he showed with the Clippers, but he never quite recaptured the same form.

No matter — Morey brought Gordon into the fold in Houston back in 2016, and Gordon's shift to a super-sub role allowed him to find team success as a supporting piece in the James Harden show. He was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in 2017 and a consistent source of scoring punch off of the bench for one of the only teams who came close to threatening the Warriors at their absolute peak. His basic efficiency numbers probably undersell his shooting value, as Gordon is a player comfortable and proficient both off-the-dribble and as a catch-and-shoot player. His catch-and-shoot numbers have been fairly consistent in Houston, with Gordon hovering around 37-38 percent on those looks throughout most of his time together with James Harden.

(If you need an indicator of that metronome consistency as a catch-and-shoot guy, Gordon managed to average the exact same number of three-point attempts per game, 8.8, in three consecutive seasons with the Rockets.)

That alone is enough to make him an intriguing fit with this group. A shooter who is willing to get them up and pretty good at making them is useful in any version of this Sixers team, and even after losing a decent amount of burst over the years, Gordon still has the dribble craft and instincts to use the threat of the three to beat a closeout and get to the rim when necessary. How much value they can get out of that sort of player is the question at hand, though, both because of his contract and what it'll take to bring him over.

Gordon's contract is an interesting one — he's functionally on an expiring deal, as his deal for next season is non-guaranteed barring his team winning the championship or Gordon making an All-Star team next year. But he's at a number that puts him in funky territory for the Sixers, making roughly $19.6 million for the 2022-23 season. It would take several players (starting with Danny Green's $10 million) to get into legal cap territory to acquire Gordon while not even thinking about the value proposition. The Sixers' roster is not in a spot where they have a lot of valuable depth to move, so their offseason approach has to consider that one decent-sized trade may be the only move of consequence they make.

Is Gordon that move? I would argue it probably shouldn't be, as he doesn't do a lot to fix the problems they have. A healthy, motivated Gordon would be a boon for their scoring output, and perhaps the Sixers will look to lean even further into an identity built around simply outscoring other teams. But Gordon does not help them with their defensive woes as a group, his short (if broad) stature not doing much to fix the issues they have defending big wings in the playoffs. And that's without consideration for Gordon staying healthy enough to help in the first place, which is a roll of the dice basically every year. Adding another small-ish guard to the rotation doesn't make too much sense to me unless they have plans to move Tyrese Maxey in some sort of franchise-altering move, and there is zero indication that's the direction they're headed in.

Tucker is a more interesting name to me, not only because he serves a more obvious purpose to the group but because his decision to opt out was eyebrow-raising to start with. A 37-year-old opting out of around $7 million seems like an indicator that he and his agent are confident they can do better (or get more years) elsewhere, and perhaps that leads him back to Harden and Morey in a new location. It certainly helps that Joel Embiid sat down after Philadelphia lost to the Heat in round two and said that guys like Tucker are exactly what they need (and have been missing) on the roster:

"When you have size and toughness, that goes a long way. You look at someone like P.J. Tucker, great player, but it's not about him knocking down shots, it's about what he does, whether it's on the defensive end or rebounding the ball," Embiid said. "Defensively, plays with so much energy, believes that he can get from point A to point B, and he believes that no can beat him, and he's tough. He's just physical and he's tough, and they have a few of those guys." 

"Since I've been here, I'd be lying if I said we've had those type of guys. Nothing against what we have, it's just the truth. We never have P.J. Tucker, that's really what I'm trying to say. I think physicality, once you get to the playoffs or the later rounds, you need that, you need those guys that are really tough."

I hardly need to tell you what Tucker brings to the table — he's a tough, physical player who will take on tough assignments, grind out games, and do whatever it takes to get a win over the line, whether that's mixing it up for offensive rebounds or getting in the face of an opponent's best player, hounding them up and down the floor. You know what you're getting from Tucker, and that's everything he's got.

The question is whether the Sixers will be able to reach his price point, entice him to come, and then whether he is suited for a high-leverage role as he ages another year. Tucker will turn 38 next May, and his opt-out decision suggests he may be hunting for non-taxpayer MLE money, $10 million-plus this season and in years to come. There are paths to the Sixers using the standard MLE this offseason, but if they go that route, it will hard-cap them at the tax apron for the rest of the season, which is an important thing to keep in mind when assembling offseason wish lists.

Tucker seems like the more likely of the Rockets reunions this summer, but keep an eye on both names as we draw closer to draft night and free agency.

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