After Miami Heat forward P.J. Tucker opted out of his $7.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season, reports concerning his free agency plans have been a rollercoaster. While Yahoo! Sports reporter Chris Haynes tweeted on June 22 that “multiple contending teams” were looking to add the 37-year-old defender, one Eastern Conference franchise has emerged as the biggest threat to steal him from Miami.
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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’s been both contested and supported since June 22.
Pompey noted, “Right now, the Sixers don’t have the cap space available to sign him for $10 million per season. As a result, they would have to clear space in order to fit in his salary… Sources said the Sixers are looking to make a three-team trade that could involve Matisse Thybulle and the No. 23 pick.”
On June 24, Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times shut down Pompey’s report. “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.
Another NBA Insider Reports It Will Be a ‘Surprise’ If Tucker Remains in Miami
Two days after Moore’s report, NBA Insider Marc 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 play out once free agency negotiations can begin on Thursday, June 30. Free-agent signings open at noon E.T. on July 6.
Stein wrote, “Numerous rival teams, meanwhile, say with even more conviction now than they did last week — when I first it reported on Wednesday — 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. 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.”
One influential superstar who would love the 6-foot-5 forward to join him in Philadelphia is Joel Embiid. The MVP candidate specifically pled for a player like him after the Heat eliminated the Sixers from the playoffs.
“You look at someone like P.J. Tucker. Great player, but it’s not about him knocking down shots,” Embiid said on May 13, per NBC Sports. “It’s about what he does, whether it’s on the defensive end or rebounding the ball.”
“[Tucker] believes that no one can beat him. He’s just physical and he’s tough. And they have a few of those guys… And since I’ve been here, I’d be lying if I said that we’ve had those types of guys. Nothing against what we have, it’s just the truth. We never had P.J. Tucker. That’s really what I’m trying to say. So, I think physicality – especially once you get to the playoffs or the later rounds – you need that. You need those guys that are really tough.”
As Stein mentioned, Tucker also has a relationship with Sixers star James Harden, as the two were teammates during their tenure with the Houston Rockets.
The Heat Remain Contenders to Keep Tucker
Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra have made it abundantly clear that they want to keep the former No. 35 overall pick from the 2006 NBA Draft in Miami. Riley called Tucker “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.”
There’s still a very strong chance Tucker does remain 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.
Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang suggested that the Heat will struggle to offer the full MLE if they are looking to retain forward Caleb Martin, who will become a restricted free agent this summer. Chiang tweeted, tweeted, “Heat could also offer $10.3 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception to re-sign P.J. Tucker, but that would hard cap Miami at the apron. Also, would eliminate an important resource that could be used to bring back Caleb Martin.”
Chiang also noted that any top team will struggle to pay Tucker above the MLE. He tweeted, “Most contending teams, if not all of them, are over the cap and only have the mid-level exception to offer P.J. Tucker. And, of course, contenders want Tucker.”