Few players have instantly gelled with the Miami Heat like forward P.J. Tucker. Heat president Pat Riley called Tucker “a cornerstone,” during his end-of-the-season press conference on June 6, and said, “I’d love to have Tuck back next year. He’s part of our core… He’s special.”
If Riley truly wants to keep Tucker, he’ll need to figure out a path in which the 37-year-old veteran gets a pay raise, as the defensive stud officially opted out of the second year of his contract, as first reported by The Athletic’s Shams Charania on Monday, June 20.
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Charania tweeted, “Tucker will opt out of his $7.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season and enter free agency, sources tell @TheAthletic@Stadium. Several championship contending teams are expected to compete for Tucker, who was a key part of Milwaukee’s title run in 2021.”
After the Milwaukee Bucks refused to go over the salary cap to keep Tucker last year, the Heat signed the former second-round pick from the 2006 NBA Draft to a two-year, $14.35 million contract.
Figuring out a way to clear money for Tucker won’t be easy, since the combined salaries of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry and Duncan Robinson combine for $113 million on the Heat’s books for next season, “and the luxury-tax threshold will be about $149 million,” as reported by Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang.
While Tucker’s age is obviously a major concern, as he will turn 38 before the playoffs start next season, he was one of the most reliable players for the Heat this season. The 6-foot-5 defensive anchor who famously refuses to take veteran rest days, appeared in 70 regular-season games (starting 71 of them). Another team could offer him more money, but probably not much more, and with taxes, it may not be worth it for him to leave.
Hot Hot Hoops reporter Matt Hanifan suggested the Heat “could use less than the taxpayer’s portion (~$6.4M) of its non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception (~$10.3M) to re-sign Tucker and avoid the hard-cap. At the risk of hard-capping itself — meaning it could not exceed the ~$156 million tax apron under any circumstance — the Heat could use the bi-annual exception ($4.0M) to sign him for up to two seasons.”
Tucker Doesn’t See Himself as a ‘Mid-Level’ Guy
Earlier this month, Tucker hinted that he wanted more than to settle for his current contract. “It’s like, ‘Am I a mid-level guy?’” Tucker told the Sun-Sentinel on Thursday, June 2, which according to reporter Ira Winderman, was “in a tone that made it clear he believed he was not.”
Tucker said of his $7.4 million player option for next season, “It’s a label that tells a guy what you think he is worth.”
CBS Sports reporter Sam Quinn surmised, “After a strong postseason run, [Tucker] could probably opt-out and at the very least command multiple years at his current salary.”
There’s still a very strong chance Tucker remains in Miami, and the Heat should be able to find a way to offer him a salary up to $8.5 million for the 2022 NBA season. Based on the forward’s Instagram Story posts on Monday, in which he prepares to put up a present from Robinson in his Heat locker, it seems the sneaker-fiend is already planning to stay in Miami.
During the regular season, Tucker averaged 7.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 0.8 steals per game, while shooting 48.4% from the field and 41.5% from beyond the arc.
Erik Spoelstra Would Also Love to Keep Tucker in Miami
Riley and Heat’s head coach Erik Spoelstra both appear to be on the same page when it comes to keeping Tucker in Miami. During Spoelstra’s end-of-the-year press conference, he couldn’t have spoken more highly of the veteran forward
“To everybody in the locker room, it’s really a special, genuine feeling when you have somebody that is committed to winning and helping other guys,” Spoelstra said.
“He’s so unselfish, you know, as a player, always taking on the biggest challenges. Defensively, he’ll do all the little things, the dirty work, the tough things, and never complain about it. He never complains or talks about his shots. He’s just completely selfless, an absolute throwback player. That’s why he’s beloved by staff and everybody in the locker room.”