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PJ Tucker declines player option, will enter free agency

The 37-year-old forward was set to make $7.4 million in 2022-23.

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game One Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Miami Heat forward PJ Tucker is declining his $7.4 million player option and will hit free agency, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Charania stated that several contenders — though none specified — will be in-play for Tucker, who was one of the Heat’s most important players a year ago.

Tucker, 37, was entering the final year of his contract entering the offseason.

This news might have been a surprise to some given his age. But according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press, Tucker’s decision to decline the option was “100% expected” and doesn’t indicate that Tucker’s tenure in Miami is over, noting that it’s likely Miami will “fight for his return” and Tucker “made it clear to teammates” about his desire to return to the 305.

For all we know, this could be Tucker saying he’s prioritizing more years than just one with Miami — though that’s likely going to come at the expense of a pay-cut, should he return.

Miami doesn’t possess any bird rights for Tucker, so it could theoretically re-sign him for ~$8.4 million. But the lack of bird-rights still makes it more complicated to re-sign the hypercompetitive veteran for a cheaper price if it chooses to.

It could use less than the taxpayer’s portion (~$6.4M) of its non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception (~$10.3M) to re-sign Tucker to avoid the hard-cap. At the risk of hard-capping itself — meaning it could not exceed the (projected) ~$155.1 million tax apron under any circumstance — the Heat could use their bi-annual exception (~$4.0M) to sign him for up to two seasons.

If Tucker wants to take a substantial pay-cut, he could sign the minimum at $2.87 million since he has 10-plus years of experience, though it would only account for $1.8 million against the cap, offering the team (marginally) more financial flexibility.

As I’ve mentioned plenty of times on the Twittersphere, Tucker was an invaluable player and a very integral part to the Heat’s success in 2021-22 — helping buoy their motion-heavy attack as an active screener, hand-off initiator, corner spacer and then some. He averaged 7.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 0.8 steals in 27.9 minutes per game, shooting 48.4 percent from the floor and 41.5 percent from 3-point range.

Heat president Pat Riley spoke highly of Tucker’s importance in his exit interview two weeks ago.

“[P.J. Tucker] is like a cornerstone,” he said. “He was like when [Udonis Haslem] was in his prime, even though UD wasn’t a primary scorer. He did things throughout the course of a game that were significant ... Tuck is the kind of player that doesn’t have to do a lot from a scoring standpoint, but he makes so many great plays for [the team]. He is a cornerstone for us: Toughness, rebounding, defense, no-nonsense guy.”

It takes two to tango for a respective contract — and nothing has suggested Miami wouldn’t want him back. In fact, Riley literally said otherwise.

“I’d love to have [P.J. Tucker] back next year,” he said. “He’s apart of our core and we’ll see what happens ... he’s special.”

This is a breaking news story, stay tuned for updates.