July 21, 2023
How much will the Sixers' roster change between now and the start of the season? Philadelphia has indicated they'd be happy to roll with who they have and take James Harden into a brand new season with them, but if the bearded guard is sent packing, don't be surprised if veteran forward P.J. Tucker goes out with him.
In the latest from Michael Scotto over at HoopsHype, Tucker was namedropped as a person of interest in discussions between the Sixers and Los Angeles Clippers:
As the James Harden trade request hovers over the Philadelphia 76ers – including a Yahoo Sports report that he’s expected to report to training camp while still seeking a move to the Los Angeles Clippers and a recent cryptic Instagram story post – it could have dominoes on the futures of two of his frontcourt teammates.
PJ Tucker, Harden’s longtime teammate with the Rockets and Sixers, has come up in trade discussions between the 76ers and Clippers, league sources told HoopsHype. The Clippers covet Tucker’s ability to guard multiple positions and defend the league’s top opposing scorers. Tucker is owed $11 million this upcoming year and has a $11.54 million player option for the 2024-25 season.
It’s worth noting Harden previously took less money to give Philadelphia added financial flexibility to pry Tucker away from the Heat in free agency in July of 2022. When Harden did so, many around the league assumed Sixers executive Daryl Morey – who’s previously been Harden’s biggest advocate – would take care of his star player financially down the line, which hasn’t happened. Current negotiations have since led to a “fractured” relationship between Harden and Morey, per Shams Charania. [HoopsHype]
In any sort of Harden trade, there are a few reasons Tucker is a logical name to throw in the mix from Philadelphia's perspective.
Whether you're discussing on-court impact or the off-court implications of clearing more future salary, you could make the case for moving Tucker if it's possible to do so. But all those points could end up secondary depending on the return package in said deal. The Sixers have lost some depth this summer, and while you'd assume they'll get some back in any theoretical Harden deal, they don't have the luxury of just throwing current contributors over board in service of long-term goals.
As it relates to the cap space argument, it could end up that a 39-year-old P.J. Tucker is difficult to move on an eight-digit salary under the new CBA. But an expiring mid-sized deal hardly seems like an impossible thing to move under any collecting bargaining agreement, even if it takes a little sweetener to get him out of there. The more compelling argument, at least to me, is whether Tucker makes sense as a Sixers player in a post-Harden world.
You could certainly point to the intangible factors and his everyday approach as a reason to keep him around. Joel Embiid is a star who has very clearly needed some ass-kickers around him to keep marching forward, and Tucker was willing to do that in moments big and small, whether Tucker was in the midst of a big game or a dreadful night of his own. There are moments in the Tucker experience where you wonder if he will burn his teammates out, particularly when he yells and demands more in the midst of a cold stretch. But by and large, he has been cited as a positive force for the team as a result of that relentless approach.
But the on-court fit is a real point of consideration. Is a team with Tyrese Maxey as the lead guard going to get anything out of Tucker on offense? He is not the corner-three generator that Harden is, which threatens to stick Tucker in the corner with no real purpose (and Tucker record scratched a ton of open threes even with Harden). Tucker's defensive chops have been a selling point for a long time, but it's tough to bank on him being a good enough defender this deep in his 30s to bank on him being a one-sided player. Even last season, Doc Rivers frequently pulled Tucker at the end of games on nights where it was clear he didn't have it going, attempting to make the Sixers younger, more athletic, and more spacing-inclined depending on who stood in his place. You would presume it's not going to get better for Tucker from here, though perhaps that claim will end up looking misguided. He certainly looked ready to go for the Game 7 in Boston that Philly's two stars no-showed.
Billed as an impactful pickup with Harden history and a Philadelphia type of attitude, Tucker's up-and-down year with the Sixers could end up being a one-and-done. But since it's unclear where Harden will end up at this stage of the summer, it'd be foolish to assume we know what'll happen with Tucker one way or another, as his future will likely depend on the bigger dominoes left to fall.
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