As the summer labors on for the Philadelphia 76ers, the conversation that surrounds the team continues to be around James Harden’s constantly reinforced trade demand to the Los Angeles Clippers. Even other stories that occasionally steal the spotlight, such as Joel Embiid’s recent comments, can be traced back to the Sixers’ pending pivotal decision.
Report after report has come forward, largely repeating the same theme. James Harden wants a trade, and the only team he wants to play for is the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s not hard to understand the why behind the desire. Harden, an LA-area native, would have the opportunity to join up with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and his former two-time teammate, Russell Westbrook.
While this would seemingly go against Harden’s reported desire for “basketball freedom,” it is not uncharacteristic in the slightest. James Harden is a creature of habit, and that habit is one of creating as comfortable an environment as possible. Comfort is what led to Harden’s original desire to come to Philadelphia and rejoin Daryl Morey. It’s also what fueled his supposed desire to return to Houston. To find himself back in LA with several stars and an old friend in Westbrook, Harden will have successfully created another comfortable environment for himself, assuming he is eventually a Clipper.
This brings us to today’s news from HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto, who reported that Harden may not be heading out West solo. According to Scotto, PJ Tucker has been mentioned in trade conversations between Philadelphia and Los Angeles, which makes sense on a variety of levels.
For the Clippers, they would be receiving a proven playoff contributor along with Harden, one that plays at a position of need at that. Additionally, as Scotto also calls attention to, Harden reportedly “took a pay cut” last season for the Sixers to be able to sign Tucker last offseason. Having the veteran forward accompany Harden to Los Angeles would also be yet another comfort for the 10-time All-Star.
For the Sixers, adding Tucker to a potential Harden trade would hurt their ability to compete in 2023-24, but perhaps not to the level one may expect. Though he was a critical member of the Sixers’ roster last season, PJ Tucker is not as effective a player without a Harden-esque guard in the lineup. That is one who can facilitate at an elite level. While Tucker would still serve as a serviceable defender and invaluable leader, his impact would certainly be lessened in Harden’s absence.
By including Tucker, the Sixers could, in all likelihood, secure a more lucrative return from the Clippers than they could otherwise. Could Tucker prove the difference between Daryl Morey receiving an offer he deems acceptable? That remains to be seen, but the potential certainly remains.
Perhaps the most beneficial aspect to consider in all of this is how trading Tucker would affect the Sixers’ cap situation for 2024-25. Earlier this month, Bryan Toporek of Liberty Ballers and Forbes took a deep dive into the Sixers’ potential plan for next offseason from a financial standpoint. While doing so, he suggested the possibility of the Sixers including Tucker in an eventual deal and how that could impact their available cap space. By trading Tucker without adding any long-term salary and by also declining Jaden Springer’s team option (10/31/2023 deadline), the team could create “upward of $60 million of cap space, depending where the final 2024-25 cap falls.”
That’s quite the opportunity, especially as, to summarize Morey’s own words, the Sixers will be the only contender with that type of salary flexibility. Flexibility, mind you, that does not have to be limited to free agency, but could also be used in a potential trade.