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NBA Investigating 76ers Potentially Tampering with James Harden, Free-Agent Class

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIJuly 30, 2022

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

The NBA has opened an investigation into the Philadelphia 76ers for possible tampering in regards to its 2022 free-agent class of James Harden, P.J. Tucker and Danuel House, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski:

"ESPN Sources: The NBA has opened an investigation into the Philadelphia 76ers for possible tampering and early contact centered on franchise’s summer free agency class of James Harden, P.J. Tucker and Danuel House. Sixers have begun cooperating with league on probe. Story soon.

"NBA's expected to pursue circumstances surrounding Harden declining $47M option to sign a 1+1 deal that cut salary to $33M and gave team more flexibility to sign Tucker and House. Some have wondered if another deal was already in place for future -- which is against CBA rules."

Wojnarowski gave more insight in a follow-up story.

"Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has already begun answering questions from league attorneys, sources said. The investigation is expected to include interviews with team personnel and the organization turning over electronic correspondence and phone records to league investigators. Teams weren't allowed to have conversations with agents or players on free agency deals prior to the opening of free agency at 6 p.m. ET on June 30."

Longtime NBA reporter Marc Stein reported July 15 that the NBA could be looking into the 76ers for tampering, with their signing of P.J. Tucker going under the microscope.

"On top of the NBA's expected examination of the Knicks' now-official signing of Jalen Brunson in free agency, I'm told that Philadelphia's signing of P.J. Tucker is also likely to be placed under the investigation microscope by the league office," Stein wrote.

As Wojnarowski noted, Harden declined a $47 million player option for 2022-23 with the intention of re-signing a new deal with Philadelphia. Harden took a pay cut with the intention of the 76ers and general manager Daryl Morey improving the roster around him with the savings.

"I had conversations with Daryl [Morey], and it was explained how we could get better and what the market value was for certain players. I told Daryl to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever is left over," Harden said to Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes.

"This is how bad I want to win. I want to compete for a championship. That’s all that matters to me at this stage. I’m willing to take less to put us in position to accomplish that."

Harden's new deal calls for $33 million in 2022-23. He has a $35.6 million player option for 2023-24.

The deal became public July 20, per Wojnarowski. On July 9, Morey said, per Haynes, that negotiations between the front office and Harden were in a "good place." Teams were allowed to talk to free agents beginning June 30 and to sign them starting July 6.

Bryan Kalbrosky of For the Win explained what Harden's decision meant for the 76ers in free agency:

"Philadelphia entered the offseason with no salary cap space and would have been over the salary cap apron ($156.9 million) had Harden exercised his player option. A team over the salary cap apron is only allowed to offer a free agent the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception of $6.5 million, which would have restricted the 76ers opportunities to improve the roster.

"By opting out of his player option and signing for $15 million less than his max, however, James moved the 76ers far enough under the salary cap apron line to allow Philadelphia’s front office to use both the Nontaxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($10.5 million for Tucker) and the Bi-Annual Exception ($4.1 million for House)."

Tucker, who was heavily connected to Philly in June by Stein among others, ended up signing a three-year, $33.2 million deal. Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic announced the move was being finalized one minute after the free-agency negotiating period began:

Shams Charania @ShamsCharania

Free agent PJ Tucker is finalizing a three-year, $33.2 million fully guaranteed deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, his agent Andre Buck (<a href="https://twitter.com/andrebuck14?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@andrebuck14</a>) told <a href="https://twitter.com/TheAthletic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TheAthletic</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Stadium?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Stadium</a>.

House inked a two-year, $8.5 million contract. Philly also landed De'Anthony Melton via trade from the Memphis Grizzlies.

Regardless of the NBA's eventual decision on Philadelphia, this marks another NBA offseason where tampering has come into question.

Last year, the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls' free-agent pursuits and signings of point guards Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball, respectively, were investigated. The NBA eventually made the teams forfeit second-round draft picks this year.

Per Wojnarowski, the NBA can fine teams as much as $10 million as well as suspend team executives for tampering.

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