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Can the Sixers still acquire P.J. Tucker now that De’Anthony Melton is in town?

Joel Embiid named Tucker specifically as someone who could help Philadelphia... and Daryl Morey would seem to agree with his perennial MVP candidate.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

With De’Anthony Melton in town via splash trade on draft night, the Sixers offseason got underway. But many folks are wondering if Melton’s arrival put a fork in Philadelphia’s pursuit of Miami Heat forward P.J. Tucker, who the Sixers have been connected to by multiple reports.

Keith Pompey reported last week that “Multiple sources have the Sixers intending to offer [Tucker] a three-year, $30 million contract. Time will tell what will happen. But a source added that there’s mutual interest between Tucker, 37, and the Sixers.”

Looking at an updated cap sheet, per Spotrac, the Sixers have 13 players under contract. If James Harden opts in sometime before Wednesday evening (the deadline for him to pick up his $47.4M player option) they’ll hover around $151.7M in total salary for the next season committed to 13 players. There’s not a lot of wiggle room.

But according to a recent update from Marc Stein via substack, the Sixers are not out of the running for acquiring the stretch four just yet:

“Numerous rival teams, meanwhile, say with even more conviction now than they did last week- when I first it reported on Wednesday- that they expect P.J. Tucker to land in Philadelphia on a three-year, $30 million deal in free agency. If Pat Riley’s Heat can find a way to now re-sign Tucker, they will definitely surprise some people. It seems increasingly safe, then, to at least pencil in a Harden/Tucker reunion into a Sixers offseason....”

So if we’re penciling in Harden for his option, as B/R’s Jake Fischer (and now numerous others including Stein within that same report) have hinted we should, there are still a few road blocks.

If the Sixers found a new home without taking back salary in exchange for a couple of Furkan Korkmaz ($5M) and Matisse Thybulle ($4.39M) they could potentially thread a very slim needle.

They’d need to remain under the luxury tax apron, projected to land around $155.7M in order to open up a Non-Taxpayer’s Mid-Level exception to make this possible offer to Tucker. The NTMLE figures to be around $10.3M for 2023, just fitting that three year, $30M we’ve been hearing about. Tucker, 37, would be 40 as that hypothetical framework came to an end. Shams Charania first reported that Tucker plans to hit unrestricted free agency.

If the Sixers can keep costs low, they can potentially finagle a $4M Bi-Annual exception as well. However, if they cannot stay under the apron, they’d have to work with a projected $6.3M smaller Taxpayer’s MLE, and perhaps a ~$2.5M vet floor salaried player.

But as Daryl Morey said about trading pick no. 23 “we’re trying to win now. We’re looking for players who can contribute.” Then at another point in his media availability, he said “we might need another wing.” So both of those comments do little to dispel the notion they’d be intrigued by adding Tucker despite his age, if the price were right.

Our Paul Hudrick has reported that the Sixers will not just dump good players. Moving on from Korkmaz and Thybulle in order to make room would seem to amount to just that.

Fischer noted that Philadelphia values Thybulle as the two time All-Defensive Second team member that he is. And Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice has also noted the team still values Matisse, despite his playoff struggles.

One can tie their mind into a knot by trying to figure out if the team would be better off with Tucker, and maybe several vet min. salaries, while dealing with a dreaded hard cap vs. scenarios retaining Thybulle, Korkmaz, one vet min. salary, a $6M MLE, and perhaps a bit of non hard-capped flexibility during the season.

But maybe they could get a future asset in exchange that didn’t ding them on the 2023 cap sheet? We did hear rumors of interest around the NBA for Thybulle on draft night.

If Harden won’t opt out, and they don’t want to simply give away Thybulle and Korkmaz, the team could explore larger trades involving Tobias Harris ($38M) who has reportedly been shopped as well.

There are other contracts out there as Bryan Toporek of Forbes Sports has noted like Gordon Hayward, Kevin Love, who might work.

The team has also been connected to Eric Gordon recently, if they could tempt the Rockets into taking Harris to mentor their young core.

Plenty of ways this can shake out. Few of the rumors we’re hearing seem imminent. But the idea of a Harden-Tucker reunion in Philadelphia definitely has the most smoke around it, despite the De’Anthony Melton acquisition making it a all trickier to swing.