The Miami Heat has several major decisions to make before free agency negotiations officially begin on Thursday, June 30, in particular, how much they are willing to spend to keep forward P.J. Tucker.
After Tucker opted out of his $7.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season, the 37-year-old defensive stud immediately became one of the hottest free agents on the market. However, Heat President Pat Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra have made it abundantly clear that they want to keep Tucker in Miami.
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Riley called him “a cornerstone,” during his end-of-season press conference and said, “I’d love to have Tuck back next year. He’s part of our core… He’s special.”
But Tucker is looking for more than compliments, he wants a multi-year deal and a higher salary. After the Milwaukee Bucks refused to go over the luxury tax to keep him last season, even after winning the NBA title, the veteran didn’t flinch before walking away.
Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang reported on Wednesday, June 30 that the Heat’s “front office has drawn a line” as to how far they’ll go to keep Tucker:
According to multiple sources close to the situation, the Heat is willing to offer Tucker a fully guaranteed contract for the maximum-allowable three years using the non-Bird exception. The deal would include a starting salary of $8.4 million and be worth about $26.5 million through three seasons. But the Heat is not currently willing to use the $10.5 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception to re-sign Tucker, according to sources, which would allow Miami to offer him a three-year contract worth about $33 million.
Chiang also clarified that the Heat’s not limiting themselves with Tucker’s offer merely to avoid the luxury tax. “The punitive repeater tax is not a looming threat for the franchise right now,” he tweeted. “It’s the fact that the hard cap would limit the team’s flexibility in the trade market during the NBA’s 2022-23 calendar.”
If Tucker Is Focused on the Highest Bidder, Signs Point to Him Joining the Sixers
While Chiang notest that “Tucker’s preference is to re-sign with the Heat,” if getting the most money right now is his main priority, which is not unusual for a player turning 38 before the playoffs start next season, the most likely landing spot for him seems to be the Philadelphia 76ers.
On June 22, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey wrote that “multiple sources have the Sixers intending to offer him a three-year, $30 million contract” — a report that was recently supported by another NBA Insider, Marc Stein.
Stein reported in his newsletter on Sunday, June 26 that Tucker landing with the Sixers is not only still in play, but the most likely scenario to happen. “Numerous rival teams, meanwhile, say with even more conviction now than they did last week… that they expect P.J. Tucker to land in Philadelphia on a three-year, $30 million deal in free agency.”
“If Pat Riley’s Heat can find a way now to re-sign Tucker, they will definitely surprise some people,” Stein noted. “It seems increasingly safe, then, to at least pencil in a Harden/Tucker reunion into a Sixers offseason that already features the draft-day acquisition of De’Anthony Melton from Memphis. Philly is also expected to continue exploring trade scenarios that feature Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle.”
On the flip side, Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times reported the Sixers won’t be trading away players for Tucker.”While the Heat can only go as high as $26 million over three years for Tucker, who shot .415 on 3-pointers last season, an NBA source said the Sixers ‘aren’t trading to trim salary to use on non-taxpayer MLE,’ so Tucker almost surely won’t become a 76er,” Moore wrote.
However, Sixers Wire reporter Ky Carlin tweeted on Wednesday, “If Philly is telling teams they’ll have the bi-annual exception as well in free agency, then it sounds like James Harden will definitely opt out and restructure his contract. That clears the way for P.J. Tucker.”
A few hours later, Carlin’s assumption became a reality. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted, “6ers star James Harden has declined his $47.3M option and become a free agent. He keeps real the possibility of negotiating a new deal that would deliver the Sixers roster-building flexibility in free agency – including use of the full $10.5M exception.”
Blake Griffin & Jae Crowder Named as Replacement Options if Tucker Walks
An Eastern Conference executive told Heavy.com’s Sean Deveney that if Tucker leaves, the Heat will “most likely” revisit a free agent veteran that they’ve been linked to since last year, Blake Griffin.
Miami was considered a top candidate to land Griffin before he obtained a buyout from the Detroit Pistons, but the six-time All-Star ultimately signed a one-year, $2.6 million contract with the Nets in March 2021, which means the 33-year-old power forward enters this offseason as an unrestricted free agent.
“The thing about Blake is, it is obvious he can’t do much of what he used to do, even when he was in Detroit. But he made a big, big impression around the league with the way he played against Boston, even though it was just a couple of games,” the Eastern Conference exec told Heavy.
“If the Heat don’t bring back Tucker, they’re going to replace him with multiple pieces most likely. And they’ve always liked Blake, going back to when he was a star, there was talk about him going there in free agency. He is a good veteran piece they can use at the right times.”
As for other possible options, Chiang suggested Miami brings back a familiar face, and trade for Phoenix Suns’ Jae Crowder, who’s entering the final year of his contract which pays $10.2 million for the 2022-23 NBS Season. Other names floated include Danilo Gallinari, Harrison Barnes, and according to Sun Sentinel‘s Ira Winderman, Indiana Pacers’ T.J. Warren.
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