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Fred VanVleet describes bond with Nick Nurse - Could the guard be a fit in Philly?

Here’s one potential avenue for Daryl Morey to explore this offseason.

Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

New Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse was available on the open market at least partially because some friction had reportedly built up between he and his former Raptors players. Now, such things tend to happen when a coach remains the head man for five years and it’s not necessarily any cause for concern. Still, it was good to see the feeling wasn’t universal among his former squad, as 29-year-old former All-Star guard Fred VanVleet was quick to note his approval for Nurse getting the new gig in Philadelphia.

VanVleet further congratulated Nurse on the Inside the Association show:

As you can hear in the above clip, the segment included an interesting nugget from VanVleet:

“I think he’ll have some success, hopefully not too much, you know, if I’m not there. And if I’m staying in Toronto, then we want him to fail, but other than that, I’m happy that he landed on his feet.”

VanVleet, who has a player option of $22.8 million next season, is expected to opt out by the June 15 deadline and become an unrestricted free agent. Here, he at least offers the possibility of reuniting with Nurse in Philadelphia. Should this be something Daryl Morey looks to do in the event that James Harden and the Sixers can not find common ground for The Beard to remain in the City of Brotherly Love?

The 29-year-old VanVleet had a bit of a down year last season, shooting a career-worst 34.2 percent from three-point range. There is some concern that Nurse ran him ragged by having him average 36-to-38 minutes per game in each of the last four seasons. Still, VanVleet’s 7.2 assists per game were a career-best mark, against a very respectable 2.0 turnovers per game. He is also an excellent defender, missing out on an NBA All-Defensive Team by just one spot in 2022. At 6-foot-1, a backcourt consisting of VanVleet and Tyrese Maxey would be firmly on the smaller size, but Nurse was able to make a similar situation work with VanVleet and Kyle Lowry for years in Toronto.

Contractually, although the Sixers won’t have the cap space to sign VanVleet even if Harden leaves, there are a few avenues for him to come to Philadelphia. One would be if the Sixers are able to do some sort of sign-and-trade with Harden, which creates a trade exception. Harden heading to Phoenix and Chris Paul heading to a third team would be one possible scenario to create the exception into which the Sixers could sign VanVleet.

The Sixers could also deal directly with Toronto. A sign-and-trade centered around sending VanVleet to Philadelphia in exchange for Tobias Harris is something that could work. If Fred made it clear he wasn’t going to stay in Toronto, the Raptors getting Tobias on an expiring deal is at least a consolation prize with some value. Harris would help the Raptors from a competitive standpoint next season and/or they could flip him to a contender for some sort of asset package.

In my opinion, if the Sixers could get VanVleet through a Harden sign-and-trade exception, that would be a huge coup for Morey. The downgrade in talent level in the starting lineup would be ever so slight, and fans might rightfully view VanVleet’s playoff chops as an upgrade after what we saw from Harden in elimination games in consecutive seasons. Giving a four-year deal to VanVleet would presumably age much better than something similar to Harden and at a lower number. It could be the type of “hitting the inside straight” thing that could save the Sixers’ offseason.

Having Harden leave for nothing and then doing some version of a VanVleet-Harris swap would be slightly murkier. As much as people rail on Harris, a roster going from Harden and Harris to just VanVleet is a significant downgrade year-over-year, and you’ve then eliminated any possibility of cap space next offseason. With Maxey and VanVleet not being the cleanest fit, I might be inclined to go the bridge year route and see if a better alternative arose next summer. However, I certainly understand the desire to shake things up now, and a bridge year is a tough sell to Joel Embiid, so it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad move if the Sixers went this route.

Ultimately, this is still all highly speculative. First, James Harden would definitely have to be leaving. Then, Fred VanVleet would have to want to come to Philadelphia, versus re-signing in Toronto, where he has played his entire NBA career and enjoyed his time, or going anywhere else (although, the Sixers having Nurse as coach and being a near-contender would help their case). Finally, things would have to break right for the Sixers. Harden would have to want to go somewhere like Phoenix where a sign-and-trade was required and that would create the necessary exception, or Toronto would have to be willing to make a deal happen if VanVleet told them he was definitely heading elsewhere. Still, it’s at least a possibility and with the Sixers not having a lot of flexibility this offseason, Morey should be looking into every one of them.

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