Should the Sixers sign PJ Tucker during free agency?

Jimmy Butler, P.J. Tucker
Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler hugs P.J. Tucker (17) after the Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 111-103 during Game 6 of the NBA basketball playoffs Eastern Conference finals Friday, May 27, 2022, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The Sixers are quite familiar with PJ Tucker following his strong play in the Conference Finals as the Miami Heat knocked them out of the playoffs. Tucker also played alongside James Harden during the Morey era Rockets. The pugnacious 37-year-old even drew some strong praise from Joel Embiid following the series. As the Sixers superstar put it:

He [Tucker] believes that no one can beat him. And he’s tough. He’s just physical, and he’s tough. And they have a few of those guys…And since I’ve been here, I’d be lying if I said that we’ve had those types of guys. Nothing against what we have, it’s just the truth. We never had P.J. Tucker. That’s really what I’m trying to say. So, I think physicality – especially once you get to the playoffs or the later rounds – you need that. You need those guys that are really tough.”

This quote certainly got the attention of the front office and Joel Embiid is absolutely right that the recent Sixers teams have lacked toughness. There are few players who compete as hard as Tucker and he also would be a clean fit in the offense as a corner-three specialist. The former Heat standout recently opted out of his contract in order to become a free agent.

Why PJ Tucker makes sense for the Sixers:

PJ Tucker has been a target for the Sixers for several years. Even being a little past his prime, Tucker was arguably the second-best player on the Heat team that knocked the Sixers out just over a month ago. In the 18 games the Heat played in the playoffs, Tucker averaged 28.3 minutes, 7.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists. He also connected on 45.1% of his three-pointers while attempting 2.8 per game.

During the regular season, Tucker shot 41.3% on corner three attempts. He is an excellent low-usage and high-impact player on the offensive end. The ability to sit in the corner and space the floor is key to optimizing the Sixers’ offense. This role will need to be filled due to the unclear future of Danny Green given his injury and contractual concerns.

It is on the defensive side of the ball that PJ Tucker will truly shine. He is not afraid of any matchup and will willingly give his best shot against the opponent’s best player. While he stands just 6’5″, Tucker plays bigger than his frame and is even capable of playing some small-ball center.

He plays with an infectious effort and energy which would immediately raise the intensity of the team. The Sixers have been starved of this type of player for several years and it has been a massive reason for their postseason shortcomings. PJ Tucker absolutely checks this box and would increase the franchise’s chances of competing for a championship next season.

Why Sixers should look elsewhere:

When Joel Embiid said the Sixers need a player like PJ Tucker, it did not necessarily mean PJ Tucker exactly. Despite Philly’s difficulty finding these types of players, there are more out there than just the Heat product. It also would take a hefty price tag for a guy who is nearing the end of his career. Signing on to pay a 40-year-old $10 million is a tough call although it is important to prioritize winning now.

There also is a great deal of salary cap gymnastics that would need to be done to make the deal work. The James Harden contract situation still will have the greatest impact on the Sixers’ financial outlook. However, in all likelihood, this contract with PJ Tucker would hard-cap the Sixers and prevent them from making anything more than minimum signings for the remainder of the offseason.

Keith Pompey also included in the article that the Sixers have been actively shopping Matisse Thybulle, the 23rd pick, and Tobias Harris as well. Finding a taker for these trade packages could go a long way to creating the cap relief Philadelphia needs. While it is clear they will be tight against the cap, having access to the mid-level exception could make or break adding another impact player.

It is pretty certain that there is still a great deal of work to do on the Sixers roster. Adding PJ Tucker would certainly be a statement move to Joel Embiid that shows the intention is to win now. While many people critique that Daryl Morey is simply rebuilding his old Rockets roster, the presence of Embiid changes the conversation. This Rockets team also deserves a ton of credit for pushing the dynastic Warriors team to 7 games in the Conference Finals in the 2017-18 season.

It is clear the offseason is heating up with the Sixers sure to be active in the draft tomorrow night. Expect some clarity on what to expect from their cap situation is and if they can find a take for the Matisse Thybulle and 23rd pick package they seem desperate to ship off.

Photo by AP Photo/Michael Dwyer