Should Sixers replace James Harden with Fred VanVleet?

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) drives as Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) and forward Georges Niang (20) defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022 in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Toronto Raptors All-Star guard Fred VanVleet has lobbied for the chairman’s seat at the head of the Nick Nurse fan club in recent days. He predicted his former boss would be a “breath of fresh air” in his new role as head coach of the Sixers.

Will Fred VanVleet join the Sixers and reunite with Nick Nurse?

While VanVleet stopped short of asking Nurse to come rescue him, it sure sounds like the two are plotting something behind the scenes. The 29-year-old has a $22.82 million player option for the 2023-24 season that he intends to exercise and became an unrestricted free agent. That was already common knowledge. Now, with his favorite coach switching zip codes, it seems as if VanVleet is ready to change uniforms as well.

According to Brett Siegel of Clutch Points, VanVleet has emerged as a potential replacement for James Harden in Philadelphia. He cited league sources close to the Sixers’ organization giving credence to the move, adding that there is a “very real possibility” that Harden decides to exercise his own player option and sign elsewhere.

Here are some contractual details, via Siegel:

VanVleet, who enters the offseason with a $22.82 million player option of his own, is expected to opt out of his deal with the Raptors to become a unrestricted free agent this summer. In one of the weaker free agent classes in recent memory, VanVleet projects to be one of the top talents available and arguably the best free agent guard given his age and skill set.

The 6-foot-1 point guard out of Wichita State would be a nice get for the Sixers. He’s a crafty ball-handler who can heat up and score in bunches when necessary. He averaged 19.3 points and 7.2 assists per game last season in 69 starts for the Raptors. More importantly, VanVleet isn’t scared to let it rip from long-range which could prove deadly next to certified snipers like Tyrese Maxey and De’Anthony Melton.

Fred VanVleet: ‘If I’m Not There and Staying in Toronto’

Fred VanVleet has only played under Nick Nurse for five of his first seven NBA seasons, including the Raptors’ memorable (well, forgettable for Sixers fans) championship run in 2019. He has long been known for his outside-the-box thinking, especially when it comes to tinkering with lineups and running his starters to exhaustion. Nurse is going to do his thing and hold players accountable. Buckle up.

FILE – Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse directs his team during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, April 2, 2023. The Philadelphia 76ers hired Nurse on Monday, May 29, 2023, following his exit from the Toronto Raptors, a person with direct knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond, File)

“It’s just a different voice that they haven’t heard before, something outside the box,” VanVleet said of Nurse, via Stadium. “He’s going to bring new ideas, creative ideas, it’ll be a great breath of fresh air for them. Anytime you’re changing head coaches that’s pretty much what you’re looking for is a new identity, a new voice for guys to kind of rally behind, and I think pretty much coming down the stretch they had to get Joel [Embiid] on board, I think once they got that, once Nick met with Joel — as long as he’s signing off on all the crazy stuff that Coach wants to do, then I think they’ll be in a good spot.”

Are the Sixers interested?

VanVleet was asked if either Joel Embiid or James Harden had contacted him to pick his brain about Nurse’s coaching style. They haven’t. And that call or text may never come if the Sixers do indeed decide to move on from Harden. Could it happen? Sure. In fact, VanVleet seemed to ever so slightly stoke the flames of a reunion with Nurse during his closing comments.

“So, I think he’ll have some success, hopefully not too much if I’m not there (Sixers) and staying in Toronto,” VanVleet said, “and want them to fail but other than that, I’m happy that he landed on his feet. You know, our situation was our situation this year, and coming down the stretch they decided to go different ways but I’m just glad that he landed on his feet, happy to see him with another job.”

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP