Former Rockets players James Harden, PJ Tucker, and Danuel House Jr. are suddenly back together with the Philadelphia 76ers, and the NBA is reportedly investigating how it all came to be.
The Sixers are loaded with Houston connections, including an executive team headlined by former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and longtime CEO Tad Brown. They traded for Harden in February, re-signed the former MVP earlier this month, and brought in two of his former Houston teammates — Tucker and House — to join him.
Now, the league office is suddenly taking a look at the circumstances of those latest transactions. Per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
The NBA has opened an investigation into the Philadelphia 76ers for possible tampering and early contact centered on the franchise’s summer free agency class of James Harden, PJ Tucker, and Danuel House, sources told ESPN on Friday.
One of the central elements of the league’s inquiry includes questions on Harden’s decision to decline a $47.4 million player option for 2022-23 and take a pay cut on a new two-year, $68 million deal, sources said. Around the league, there have been questions about whether there is already a handshake agreement in place on a future contract — which would be in violation of collective bargaining rules.
Woj reports that Morey has already begun answering questions from NBA attorneys, and the investigation is expected to include further interviews with team personnel and the organization turning over its electronic correspondence and phone records to investigators. Teams aren’t allowed to have conversations with agents or players about free agency deals prior to the start of free agency, which this year was on June 30.
ESPN story on the NBA opening a tampering investigation into the Philadelphia 76ers, including questions into James Harden's decision to decline a $47 million player option and take a paycut for next season: https://t.co/oA7uLO1WEA
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 30, 2022
In 2021, the NBA disciplined several teams for tampering violations. However, the standard penalty in those cases was forfeiting a future second-round draft pick, which probably was not a major deterrent.
“The NBA instituted more stringent penalties in such cases in 2019, including raising the maximum fine for teams to $10 million and adding the possibility of suspending team executives, forfeiting draft picks, and even voiding contracts,” Woj writes. “The possibility of the contracts becoming voided is seen as a virtually non-existent threat.”
Beyond nostalgia, the potential connection to the current Rockets is this: Harden’s new contract contains a player option to become a free agent in 2023, and Houston is projected to have significant cap space that offseason. In theory, the Rockets could be a viable destination to reunite with their former All-Star guard. However, that possibility is much less likely to be realistic if Harden already has his next deal lined up.
Time will tell.