CAMDEN, N.J. — It was Daryl Morey’s job to maximize the 76ers’ 23rd pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft in an effort to close the gap on the Celtics, Heat and Bucks in the Eastern Conference.
There are a lot of possibilities and a lot is on the line — trying to fill some of the Sixers’ holes and finally get past the second round of the playoffs while 28-year-old star center Joel Embiid, a two-time MVP runner-up, is still in his prime.
With James Harden expected to pick up his $47.4 million option by Wednesday’s deadline and sign a two-year contract extension (“it’s a mutual lovefest,” Morey said), according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Morey must consider all possibilities.
His first move in his third year with the Sixers was to trade the first-round selection and the non-guaranteed $10 million contract of injured wing Danny Green to the Grizzlies in exchange for guard De’Anthony Melton on Thursday.
Melton, a fourth-year pro from Southern Cal who can run the point and play off the ball, averaged 10.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals and hit .374 of his 3-pointers last season for Memphis while excelling in catch-and-shoot situations. A quality defensive player, the 6-foot-2 Melton is under contract for $8.25 million next year and $8 million in 2023-24 and is expected to come off the bench for a team whose reserves struggled again in the playoffs.
Since the trade wasn’t finalized when Morey spoke to the media early Friday morning, he couldn’t discuss the specifics of the Melton deal. It finally became official late Friday afternoon.
“We’re excited about the possibility of some trades coming,” Morey said. “If we can get a perimeter defender, maybe for a draft pick, we’d feel really good about that. … We think we got better tonight.”
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Following the Sixers’ season-ending Game 6 loss to the Heat, Embiid gave what amounted to a 75-second plea for gritty Miami forward P.J. Tucker, who is an unrestricted free agent.
“Defensively, he plays with so much energy and he believes no one can beat him getting from Point A to Point B,” Embiid said. “And he’s tough and he’s physical. … Since I’ve been here, I’d be lying if I said we had those type of guys. Nothing against what we have — it’s just the truth. We never have P.J. Tucker. That’s what I’m really trying to say. Once you get to the later rounds of the playoffs, you need those guys that are really tough.”
The Sixers are interested in the 37-year-old Tucker, according to Keith Pompey of the Inquirer. It wouldn’t be easy, but Philadelphia could conceivably offer Tucker $32 million over three years (starting at $10.3 million with annual 4.5 percent raises) if it gets below the luxury-tax threshold, which would mean trading Matisse Thybulle and his $4.4 million salary for a future first- or second-round pick and Furkan Korkmaz’s $5 million, which could be paired with a second-rounder for a highly protected second-round pick to a team under the cap. That would allow the Sixers to move under the $147 million tax line, sign Tucker and remain below the $155.7 million luxury tax apron that’s required if they use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception.
While the Heat can only go as high as $26 million over three years for Tucker, who shot .415 on 3-pointers last season, an NBA source said the Sixers “aren’t trading to trim salary to use on non-taxpayer MLE,” so Tucker almost surely won’t become a 76er.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that the Sixers have interest in another former Rocket, shooting guard Eric Gordon, though including Green in the Melton swap would make matching salaries difficult as part of the package for Gordon, even if a third team is involved. Pompey reported the Sixers continued looking at the 33-year-old Gordon, who hit .412 of his 3s last year, after the draft. Gordon is under contract for $19.6 million in 2022-23 with his $20.9 million guaranteed for 2023-24 if he plays 500 regular-season minutes next season. He would fill a need as the fifth starter.
Morey, the Sixers’ president of basketball operations, acquired Harden, Tucker and Gordon when he was the general manager in Houston.
Dealing Thybulle or another Sixer in exchange for veteran help is the most likely scenario, as well as utilizing the $6.4 million taxpayer mid-level exception. Tobias Harris and others not named Tyrese Maxey could be in play for Philly.
The Sixers are reportedly on Kyrie Irving’s short list of six sign-and-trade destinations, though it’s difficult to imagine how they could acquire him unless the Nets would want Harris. The Wizards’ Bradley Beal could be another option if he doesn’t want to return to Washington.
The free-agent fun begins Thursday. We’ll see how involved Morey and the Sixers are and how much help they’ll be able to give Embiid during this period.
Tom Moore: tmoore@couriertimes; @TomMoorePhilly