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2022 NBA Free Agency: Examining potential PJ Tucker replacements

Tucker might be on his way to Philly, so who could realistically replace the valuable production he gave Miami last season?

SPORTS-BKN-HEAT-TUCKER-MI Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

While it’s, at times, the butt of jokes and playful mockery amongst fans from the other 29 fanbases — over the years, Heat folk lore always ponder with the question: Does that guy fit the #HEATCulture™?

Whether it’s the ruthless conditioning, the infamous body-fat test, selfless mentality, it seems as every free agent linked to Miami — which, nowadays, seems like most of them — or trade candidate is asked that question when discussing their potential fit with the organization.

A few notable players who have absolutely fit that bill, some better than others. A few recent examples were Jae Crowder, who was acquired at the 2020 trade deadline, James Johnson, Josh Richardson, Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and, most importantly, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

Perhaps nobody fit it better than P.J. Tucker, who signed with the Heat on a two-year deal last summer.

Tucker was the quintessential embodiment of Heat basketball: The relentless effort, hard-nosed personality, blue-collar approach with championship identity and do-whatever-it-takes mentality defined Tucker, the perfect representation of #HEATCulture™.

Though after one short season in the 305, Tucker, 37, might be on his way to the Philadelphia 76ers for three-years, $30 million, according to NBA insider Marc Stein and Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

James Harden has until 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday to either exercise or decline his $47.4 million player option for 2022-23. If he opts out, Tucker is eligible to sign the full taxpayer’s mid-level exception ($10.3) outright; if he opts in, the Sixers would plenty of financial gymnastics to hurdle in order for that deal to be accomplished.

Miami could theoretically sign Tucker to a three-year deal for a max of $27 million, since it does not own Tucker’s bird rights. Whether Miami will or will not go that steep is different question, but various reports suggests the Heat are willing to offer the full three-years, unlike it did to Jae Crowder two offseasons ago.

For this exercise — in case Tucker doesn’t re-sign — let’s (rationally) examine a few potential external replacements:

Potential free agents to pursue for at or less than the Taxpayer MLE:

Regardless if Tucker walks or not, the Miami Heat currently have access to the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception for next season, which is projected to begin at $10.3 million. To avoid the hard-cap, the Heat could sign one or multiple free agents for at or less than the taxpayer’s mid-level exception ($6.4M). The market is presumably thinner for those options, though Miami’s intent might be to not be hard-capped. Let’s go over a few who the Heat might consider.

Jalen Smith:

Smith, whose third-year option wasn’t picked up by the Phoenix Suns prior to the 2020-21 season, was apart of the Torrey Craig-Suns trade deadline deal. He got some run with Indiana, averaging 13.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game on 53.1/37.3/76.0 shooting splits in 22 games with the Pacers. Smith was linked to Miami ahead of the 2020 NBA Draft and could be a cheap (developmental) option on the market.

Chris Boucher:

As Toronto’s nominal backup-5, Boucher had a down season after having his most productive season a year prior. He’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and offers superb shot-blocking and rebounding ability. If he wanted to be a true fit next to Adebayo, Boucher would need to improve his playmaking and floor-spacing capabilities, but he’s a player Miami should look to sign regardless of Tucker’s development.

Eric Paschall:

Paschall is the clear wild card on this list. He only played 58 games for the Utah Jazz a year ago, averaging 5.8 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. His counting stats have taken a dip because of his diminishing role, but has posted a career-best 61.2 true-shooting efficiency a year ago and was a good rotation player for Golden State from 2019-21.

Otto Porter Jr.:

Porter Jr. emerged as a key bench piece for the Golden State Warriors during their title run. He signed with Golden State for the minimum last summer, but I expect him to command MLE-ish money if he doesn’t re-sign with the Warriors this offseason. Porter is a very capable shooter, good rebounder and a sound on- and off-ball defender that understands his role.

If Miami uses above their TPMLE, who do they go after?

Say the Heat want to walk the margins of the projected $155-$156 hard-cap, they can use most of, if not their full NTMLE to sign a free agent. But who could that be?

Bobby Portis:

Portis, a fan favorite in Milwaukee who was one of its key cogs for their 2020-21 championship run, had one of the most productive years of his career a season ago. He tallied career-bests in points (14.6 ppg), rebounds (9.1) and blocks (0.7), shooting 47.9 percent from the floor and 39.3 percent from 3-point range. Portis’ infectious energy spurned an important role in Milwaukee’s rotation and would be a very good option for Miami to consider.

TJ Warren:

Could......Warren and Jimmy Butler be teammates after their incident in 2019-20? I’m intrigued by the option, though the looming question would be how healthy he is. He’s played only four games since the Bubble — when the Heat beat them in the playoffs — to injuries, but has developed into an established three-level scorer with defensive upside. Warren might not ultimately fit into the $6.5-10.3M range because of his injury history regardless of what team he signs with, but Miami’s taken on reclamation projects before. I can them doing the same again with Warren provided they’re able to nab an extra 4.

Others considered: Kyle Anderson, Thaddeus Young, Nic Batum

Possible trade candidates?

While this means parting with an asset or two, perhaps the most optimal route to replace Tucker might be via the trade market. Let’s examine a few potential candidates:

John Collins

Depending on how fluid trade talks remain between the Spurs and the Hawks, you could scratch Collins off this list. But since he hasn’t been moved yet, he’s still an option. Collins has been on the trade block for what’s felt like multiple years now, and Miami would be a good fit for the 24-year-old. He’s expanded his game from year-to-year and has improved as a defender, averaging 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.0 blocks on 52.6/36.4/79.3 shooting splits. Collins has four years and $102 million left on his deal, so it would like take Duncan Robinson, picks and maybe another asset to nab Collins. But he would be a good fit next to Adebayo long-term.

Harrison Barnes

Barnes might be the best PJ Tucker replacement. Sacramento drafted Keegan Murray No. 4 overall and Barnes, 30, will be in the final year of his contract at $18.4 million — all but signifying his time in Sacramento might be coming to a close. Barnes is an efficient shooter and floor spacer, but can also take opposing guards/wings off the dribble and is an underrated playmaker. His defense has taken a slight dip, but it’s still tenable.

JaMychal Green

Green was recently dealt from the Denver Nuggets to the Oklahoma City Thunder to eat into the latter’s available cap space. Thus, he’s worth considering if available, but don’t expect it without at least one first-round pick heading back know...Sam Presti. Green’s 3-point shooting cratered last season (26.6 3P%) after hitting 39.5 percent of his 3-point attempts in the three seasons prior. The journeyman holds his own against bigger bodies defensively and could maximize his physical traits in the 305.

Who are names you would consider? Comment below!