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Report hints at Harden not opting in, allowing team to sign Tucker

Another bit of grist for the Sixers free agency rumor mill as we’ve gotten our first hint James Harden could opt out to facilitate a P.J. Tucker signing.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The deadline for James Harden to opt in to his $47.37 million player option for the upcoming 2022-23 season is 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday, June 29. Up until now, the reporting from the folks we trust has seemed to indicate that Harden would opt in, then sign an extension for two more seasons at a substantial number, but still lower than a max salary figure.

Concurrently, those around the league have indicated that the Sixers are the frontrunners to sign free agent P.J. Tucker at around a three-year, $30 million deal. However, the recent trade for De’Anthony Melton made the path to accessing the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which is where Tucker would slot in for that 3/30 deal) very difficult, barring a major roster shake-up.

Unless, Harden did something a little different than anticipated, which is where the recent reporting from Marc Stein comes into play, via his substack:

“We already know James Harden and the 76ers are likely to come to an agreement on a shorter-term new contract than Harden is eligible to receive and which is projected to run for two more seasons beyond 2022-23. Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey essentially already promised that after the draft, telling local reporters: “As you guys have heard, it’s a mutual lovefest, so we feel like we’ll work it out.” The mystery stems from the form that new deal takes. I’ve been writing for days about the growing belief among rival teams that the Sixers will successfully lure P.J. Tucker away from Miami in free agency with a three-year deal in the $30 million range. One key option to note that Harden possesses is declining next season’s $47.4 million to ultimately sign a new three-year deal with the Sixers in free agency that starts at a lower number and helps create some extra flexibility immediately for Philadelphia to help facilitate the Tucker signing. Sources insisted again Sunday night that it would be very surprising at this point if the anticipated Harden/Tucker/Morey reunion in Philly collapses.”

Here, Stein refers to the possibility of Harden declining his option to facilitate the Tucker signing. Logically, it’s the most surefire path for the team to free up the space under the apron to utilize the NTMLE. We haven’t discussed it much, because Harden opting out always seemed extremely unlikely. But based upon what Stein is saying, James might be so on-board with bringing his old pal P.J. to town, that the old thinking is out the window and he’s willing to give up some money to make it happen.

If this is indeed the way things play out, it would be hugely beneficial for the Sixers. Tucker would represent a tangible upgrade to the roster, and they wouldn’t have to give away multiple useful assets for nothing to facilitate the move, or trade away Tobias Harris in a cap-saving deal that would leave the on-court product worse off. Everybody wins, except the guy in charge of calculating Harden’s net worth. But if he is cool with sacrificing some money to help be a part of a winner and hang out with a teammate he likes, all the better.

We’re just a couple days away from the opt-in deadline, so things will become clearer sooner rather than later, but this recent report should be met with optimism by Sixers fans.