It’s also a dramatic moment when a play faces his former team for the first time, but the stakes are a little higher for P.J. Tucker, who signed with the Miami Heat during free agency this summer.
Not only was Tucker an integral part of helping the Milwaukee Bucks win the NBA title last season, but the veteran forward said he was in “shock” when the Bucks chose not to resign him for the 2021-22 NBA season.
As the basketball gods would have it, the very first game Tucker plays a member of the Heat will be against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, and the veteran forward isn’t pretending that a win wouldn’t mean a lot.
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“I mean, come on, we’re competitors. I was part of that,” Tucker said, as reported by Miami Herald‘s Anthony Chiang. “To not be back? For sure. You know it’s like natural human behavior. Definitely, I want to win this game better than I want to win any other game. Yes, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t.”
Tucker, 36, started last season with Houston Rockets before getting traded to Bucks in March. During Milwaukee’s postseason run, he averaged 4.3 points while shooting 32.2% from beyond the arc, 4.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and one steal. Defensively, Tucker was a powerhouse, shutting down Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant, one of the NBA’s all-time best scorers during the Eastern Conference Finals.
“It is what it is,” Tucker said. “But to say that I’m not circling every time we play Milwaukee, I would be lying to you.” The Heat face the Bucks at home at the FTX Arena on Thursday, October 21 at 8 p.m. ET.
Tucker was ‘Pretty Surprised’ the Bucks Didn’t Keep Him
After winning the championship, the Bucks had to decide between retaining Tucker and going over the luxury tax threshold or letting him go, and Milwaukee chose the latter.
“I was pretty surprised,” Tucker said. “You win a championship and you’re part of winning something special like that, you would expect that. A chance of it not happening? There’s a chance. It didn’t happen. Does it happen a lot? I don’t think so, not in that situation, not in those situations. You watch role guys in series in the past, usually those guys go back. So I’ll take my situation as just that, a particular situation. I move on from it and keep it going.”
While Tucker won’t comment on the Bucks’ exact offer, he ultimately signed a two-year $14.4 million contract with the Heat. Afterward, the Texas-Austin alum took to Instagram to explain why he’s moving on, writing a lengthy goodbye message to the Bucks community.
“I just felt like it for the fans, because everybody blamed me,” Tucker said of his heartfelt Instagram post. “All the fans blamed me right away, not knowing the situation, what happened. So that was definitely a raw emotion, right in that moment. But it is what it is. It’s business. They made a decision, I made a decision, and we move on.
Heat President Pat Riley Is Thrilled to Have Tucker on the Roster
During Heat president Pat Riley’s first media conference since the Bucks swept Miami in the first round of the playoffs last season, “The Godfather” singled out Tucker as one of the most exciting additions to the team.
“He’s three times more than what I thought he was. He just is,” Riley said of Tucker on Tuesday. “If I wanted to put on a defensive clinic, I would probably use him as an example on how to close out, how to get in a stance, how to slide your feet, how to stay in a play when you’re beat, how to get over a pick, how to communicate and talk. These are just on the defensive end, and how to blitz, switch and those kind of things.”