Report: NBA opens investigation into Sixers' free-agent moves originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The NBA has reportedly opened an investigation into the Sixers' moves during free agency.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Friday night that the league is investigating “possible tampering and early contact centered on the franchise’s summer free agency class of James Harden, P.J. Tucker and Danuel House." Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and the team have begun cooperating with the league, Wojnarowski reported.
Free-agent negotiations were officially permitted to begin at 6 p.m. ET on June 30. Within 15 minutes, the Sixers were expected to finalize a three-year, $33.2 million deal with Tucker and had a two-year, $8.5 million agreement with House, a source confirmed that night to NBC Sports Philadelphia.
It’s not unusual for rumors of mutual interest between a team and free agent to leak before negotiations can technically start. The expected Tucker-Sixers pairing was widely reported in the week before free agency. Jalen Brunson to the Knicks was another such example this year.
Wojnarowski reported the NBA's investigation “is expected to include interviews with team personnel and the organization turning over electronic correspondence and phone records to league investigators."
After a draft-night deal to acquire De’Anthony Melton from the Grizzlies, Morey emphasized the Sixers did not have anything set in stone for free agency.
“We’re excited for free agency,” Morey said. “Don’t know how it’ll play out, but (managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer) have given us every ability to do whatever we need to do in free agency to make the team better now. Add hopefully another rotation piece.
“That’s a little ways away and who knows how it’ll play out. But people want to play here, people love our team, people love playing with Joel (Embiid), love playing with James, love playing with Tobias (Harris). We’re optimistic about free agency but have no idea how that one’s going to play out.”
Morey did sound quite confident that Harden would remain a Sixer, a consistent message from all parties since the 10-time All-Star arrived in Philadelphia.
“Well, we can’t talk yet. I would expect … actually, I don’t know,” Morey said. “We’ll have conversations with him. As you guys have heard, it’s a mutual lovefest, so we feel like we’ll work it out.”
Harden ultimately declined his player option of $47.4 million, eventually signing a new contract that will pay him $33 million next season and has a $35.6 million player option for 2023-24.
By taking a substantial pay cut, Harden enabled the Sixers to sign former Rockets teammates Tucker and House with the standard mid-level exception and bi-annual exception, respectively.
“I had conversations with Daryl, 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 told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes on July 17. “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.”
ESPN reported Harden's pay cut is “one of the central elements" of the league's investigation and that “around the league, there have been questions about whether there's already a handshake agreement in place on a future contract -- which would be in violation of collective bargaining rules."