Where one Philadelphia 76ers-Houston Rockets trade ends, another could begin.
Now officially a member of the Brooklyn Nets after being traded by the Houston Rockets in a deal that eventually ballooned to involve four total teams, seven players, four first-round picks, and four more pick swaps, Daryl Morey will understandably get dragged by the sizeable chunk of Philly fans who wanted nothing more than to see Harden donning a red, white, and blue number 13 jersey for the foreseeable future.
Sidebar: Technically speaking, Harden was never going to wear the number 13 in Philly, as it’s been retired for years thanks to Mr. 100, Wilt Chamberlain, but that’s neither here nor there.
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If you’re upset about the Sixers failing to secure Harden’s services, that’s okay. If you think the package Houston was reportedly after – Ben Simmons, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, and three first-round picks (as per The Ringers’ Kevin O’Conner) – is reasonable for a player who led the league in scoring in each of the last three seasons, you are totally within your rights to feel that way. Heck, even if Morey just got in on the action and added a player like Victor Oladipo and/or Caris LeVert to further fortify their roster, that is totally cool too.
No one is going to tell you how to feel about this move. The world is hard enough as it is; take the time you need.
With that being said, if you – and by you, I mean Daryl Morey – are still itching to pull off a trade with the Rockets, there is a move that makes a ton of sense that could probably be had without much fuss.
That’s right, we’re talking about Anthony Leon “P.J.” Tucker.
Fun fact: According to Pro-Basketball-Reference, P.J. stands for “Pops Junior”. Cool.
While Morey will surely be remembered in the annals of basketball history for making franchise-altering moves to acquire Harden, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook, his resume is just as impressive for transforming players like Eric Gordon, Danuel House, Ben McLemore, and yes, P.J. Tucker from underappreciated assets into legitimate contributors on a playoff-bound team.
In Tucker, Morey quite literally found a player who was averaging a career-low 5.8 points in 25.4 minutes of action a night with the Toronto Raptors and transformed him into arguably the Rockets’ second most important player on an insanely value-conscious four-year, $32 million deal. In Tucker, the Rockets found a (slightly) above-average 3 point shooter, a switchable forward who could cover two-five, and even a small-ball five capable of going toe-to-toe with players a half a foot taller due to his tenacity, gritty-ness, and stonewall frame.
Heck, one could argue that Morey, Mike D’Antoni, and the boys wouldn’t have been able to shuffle out that insane uber-small ball lineup they debuted in 2019-20 without having Tucker and our old pal Robert Covington soaking up minutes at the five.
But now, with Harden gone, a small fortune of picks on the books, and Christian Wood playing like one of the best value bigs in the NBA, it’s entirely possible the Rockets could be a bit more motivated to get the 35-year-old on the final year of his contract off the books than a few nights prior.
Now to be fair, this isn’t the first time Tucker has been involved in trade talks. I mean the NBA’s reigning sneaker champ was irate over his contract situation back in November; this isn’t some out-of-the-box hypothetical trade. No, I can say with pretty safe certainty that Tucker won’t be finishing out the season in a Rockets jersey barring an improbable playoff push before the deadline, the question really should be which team will he be playing for.
In that regard, there’s actually a pretty compelling case that Tucker should be near the top of the Sixers’ wishlist.
Excluding the obvious Morey connection, Tucker is a smart, savvy veteran forward who can defend and play all three frontcourt positions. He would immediately slot in as the Sixers’ best bench forward, can play in quite literally every possible lineup Doc Rivers could cook up, and could even unlock Simmons-plus-shooters as a small-ball center.
Do you like Mike Scott? Well, in a lot of ways, Tucker is like the Charizard to Scott’s Charmeleon, in that he’s basically the same player, only better.
If new Rockets GM Rafael Stone is really going all-in on asset acquisition and is willing to swap out a more talented player for a lesser option plus draft assets – James Harden for Victor Oladipo, anyone? – I could totally see Morey hitting up his old colleague and offering a package of Scott, a trade exemption, and a few second-rounders for a chance to reunite with one of his former feel-good stories.
Alternatively, the Sixers could potentially even use such a trade to further fill out their bench with additional shooting and try to land a player like McLemore – who is also in the final year of his contract – in exchange for slightly better draft capital and a player like Tony Bradley.
The Sixers do hold the rights to the New York Knicks’ second-round pick this season. Even if Tom Thibodeau‘s squad has shown impressive signs of life in the early outings of the 2020-21 season, something tells me that pick is still going to be more valuable than the pick Philly is already sending Houston’s way if the Rockets opt to swap with them in 2021.
Is it still a bummer that the Philadelphia 76ers weren’t able to land James Harden, even if the package to procure his services was pretty darn insane? Sure. Is it even harder knowing that he’ll be facing off against the Sixers over and over again for the foreseeable future as a division rival? Yup, that stinks too. But just because Daryl Morey wasn’t able to land a blockbuster trade doesn’t mean he can’t still make small, meaningful moves to improve his roster on the margins. Remember, neither Danny Green nor Seth Curry has a single All-Star appearance and the team is undefeated when they share a starting five with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Tobias Harris.