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PJ Tucker plans to pick Sixers over Heat, Bucks in free agency, sources say

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PJ Tucker is a perfect fit for the 76ers.

The same can be said for the Miami Heat, his current team. However, the place where the plucky power forward has had the most success is with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks acquired Tucker on March 19, 2021 and he turned out to be the missing piece to propel their 2021 NBA champion team.

However, multiple league sources say Tucker will choose the Sixers’ $30 million, three-year offer over opportunities to remain in Miami or return to Milwaukee after free agency begins at 6 pm Thursday. Tucker could receive a guaranteed $27 million with attainable incentives that could push him to $30 million, sources say.

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The problem is that the Sixers won’t have the cap space available if James Harden picks up his $47.36 million player option, as he previously said he would.

Sources believe Harden will sign a two-year extension for just under the maximum after choosing that option. But if Harden takes the player option on him, the Sixers will have $151.7 million in salary commitments with 13 players. And this is where things get tricky.

» READ MORE: Sixers free agency stories: James Harden’s future, Tobias Harris’ trade potential & more

If the Sixers add a player via sign-and-trade this summer or use their $4.1 million biannual exception or $10.3 million non-contributing midlevel exception (which is the best path for Tucker), they can’t pass the $4.1 million. 155.7 million luxury tax apron next season.

So the team would have to shed about $8.2 million to use the non-taxpayer midlevel exception and have enough room under the luxury tax apron to pay a veterans’ minimum contract ($1.8 million). ) for her 15th spot on the list.

Right now, all the Sixers have to offer are minimum contracts and an MLE of about $6.4 million after acquiring De’Anthony Melton and his $8.25 million salary in a draft-night trade with the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Sixers could send Melton to a team that would take his salary without sending a player back to create the space needed to acquire Tucker. They simply couldn’t add his salary along with another player for the deal to work. However, it would not make sense to get rid of the 3 and D player who provides what they need.

Another avenue for the Sixers could be an attempt to package a combination of Furkan Korkmaz ($5 million), Matisse Thybulle ($4.3 million) and George Niang ($3.4 million) into one team without getting a player back in return.

An outside option could be to try to sign and trade with the Heat for Tucker.

The Bucks County Courier Times reported that an NBA source said the Sixers don’t plan to trade just “to cut salary to use in [the] Non-taxpaying MLE.” As a result, the report added that Tucker is almost certainly not going to become a Sixer.

But that hasn’t changed the minds of rival executives and league sources, who hope to see Tucker in Philly. Three sources have said Tucker to the Sixers is a “done deal.” A fourth source has said he would be surprised if Tucker wasn’t in a Sixers uniform next season.

We’ll find out shortly.

But a “done deal” in the NBA is only a done deal once it’s clear a preferred team won’t match or beat an offer.

Of course, there has been talk around the league surrounding the Sixers’ search for Tucker for more than a week. Despite that, a person close to the team denied what league sources said about the situation.

To be clear, teams cannot trade free agents until free agency begins Thursday. Any previous discussion is considered manipulation. Teams cannot officially announce or sign their free agent acquisitions until the league’s moratorium period ends at 12:01 p.m. on July 6.

It’s obvious the Sixers and Tucker have a mutual interest and intend to link up when the opportunity presents itself.

» READ MORE: James Harden plans to sign short-term extension with Sixers after choosing option

Harden’s deadline to opt out of the final year of his contract is Wednesday. Once he opts out of his deal, Harden can only sign a two-year extension with 5% annual raises through Aug. 10. After that date, he will be eligible to sign a four-year extension that would carry a 5% salary increase. in 2023-24. He will then be eligible for 8% annual raises for the last three seasons.

Sources have said that Harden, 32, looked good while training in the Houston area. He spent a little over eight seasons with the Houston Rockets before forcing a trade to the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 13, 2021.

Sixers trade target and Rockets shooting guard Eric Gordon also participated in some of the workouts in the Houston area. Sources have said Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey continues to pursue Gordon after failing to acquire him through a three-team trade on draft night.

The acquisition of Gordon, along with Harden’s decision to participate and the expected signing of Tucker, would make the Sixers the Houston Rockets East.

Morey was the Rockets’ general manager for 13 seasons before being hired by the Sixers in November 2020. Gordon, 33, spent the last six seasons of his 14-year career with the Rockets. Tucker, 37, spent 3 1/2 seasons in Houston before being traded to Milwaukee at the 2021 trade deadline.

On paper, the Heat and Bucks are better positioned to win the 2023 NBA title than the Sixers. But Tucker’s agent, Andre Buck, is a resident of the Philadelphia area and a graduate of the University of Delaware. Sources have said that Tucker’s decision is bigger than basketball. The North Carolina native might have some business ventures that he would like to undertake in the Philadelphia area. And he, too, is looking to get a third year on his contract and take home a big payday to finish his career.

We’ll soon find out where the Sixers’ offer lands and whether they can fit Tucker’s desired salary. We’ll also see if the Heat or some other team can entice the veteran forward to go elsewhere.

But for now, the feeling around the league is that he will join forces with the Sixers, and former Rockets Harden and Morey.

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