Numerous rival teams have claimed that now-free-agent P.J. Tucker will sign with the Philadelphia 76ers over the Miami Heat on a three-year deal, according to NBA insider Marc Stein.
Here is a snippet Stein reported Sunday (subscription required):
Numerous rival teams, meanwhile, say with even more conviction now than they did last week — when I first reported on Wednesday — that they expect P.J. Tucker to land in Philadelphia on a three-year $30 million deal in free agency.
Stein added that if Heat president Pat Riley could re-sign Tucker, “some people” be would be “definitiely surprised” and that it’s “incredibly safe, then to at least pencil in a Harden/Tucker reunion...”
It’s definitely not a massive hurdle to overcome for the Miami Heat. In fact, I’d argue the mountain is way steeper for the Sixers because of their expensive cap sheet.
Even though it doesn’t own Tucker’s bird-rights, if it wanted to using its full mid-level exception ($10.3M in 2022-23) to avoid the hard-cap, the Heat are eligible to re-sign Tucker for a maximum of approximately $27 million across three years. The full NTMLE over three seasons would equal a little more than the reported $30 million for Philadelphia, so it’s doable for Philadelphia.
When I originally wrote about Tucker opting out of his player option, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that “several championship contending teams are expected to compete” for Tucker. The Sixers, who Miami eliminated in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals, just so happens to be one of them — and justifiably so.
Miami’s PJ 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.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 20, 2022
Philadelphia, however, would be currently ineligible to sign Tucker to the full mid-level without freeing salary.
After acquiring De’Anthony Melton ($8.25M) from the Memphis Grizzlies on draft night, the Sixers are currently on the books for $151.7 million this upcoming season, per Spotrac. That’s assuming Harden opts into his $47.4 million player option, which he’s reportedly expected to do by the June 29th deadline.
Stein noted that the Sixers are still exploring trades for Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle, who combine for about $42 million in 2022-23 salary. Including ‘22-23, Harris has $76.9 million (two years) left on his deal, while this marks Thybulle’s final year of his rookie contract before restricted free agency next summer.
Since a Harris trade would likely net at least $25-30 million in return, Thybulle would likely have to get dealt (for cheap), as well as potentially Furkan Korkmaz ($5.0M) and/or Georges Niang ($3.5M). They’d be walking on lava with the projected $155-156 tax apron if they were to gain full access to the NTMLE.
Like Miami, they could also offer the bi-annual exception ($4.0M) — triggering the hard-cap — as well as offering him the minimum.
Liberty Ballers’ Dave Early did a good job outlining how the Sixers could nab Tucker with Melton’s salary here.
Riley has been open about wanting to keep Tucker. That isn’t a secret.
“[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.
“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.”
In Tucker’s case, it might not be about who gives him the most money. After all, what the Heat can offer is marginally lower.
Associated Press NBA reporter Tim Reynolds reported on June 20 that Tucker opting out did not mean he’d be leaving, stating “It’s likely Heat will fight to keep him, and Tucker made clear to teammates when the season ended that he would like to be back.”
P.J. Tucker deciding to opt out was 100% expected. This does not mean he’s leaving Miami, source reiterated to AP. It’s likely Heat will fight to keep him, and Tucker made clear to teammates when season ended that he would like to be back.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) June 20, 2022
So the tug-of-war for Tucker continues, with the Sixers and Heat as the presumed frontrunners. Let’s see if this year’s playoff result remains the same, but under the umbrella of the Tucker free agency sweepstakes.