The first big blow of the Miami Heat offseason was P.J. Tucker, an invaluable piece to its 53-win squad last year, flocked to its conference rival Philadelphia 76ers on a three-year, $33.2 million deal. They replaced him with Caleb Martin, but the impact, respectfully, didn’t hold the same weight.
Tucker signed a two-year, $14.4 million deal with the Heat the offseason prior, and had one of the best seasons of his career under Erik Spoelstra’s tutelage.
He averaged 7.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 48.4 percent shooting, including 41.5 percent from beyond the arc on 2.7 triple tries per game in his age-36 season. He opted out of the second year of his $7.5 million player option heading into the offseason.
Recently, Tucker opened up to the Miami Herald about the Heat not retaining him, admitting that he thought he would be in Miami for the remainder of his career.
“I thought I was going to retire in Miami,” Tucker said.
Unlike Philadelphia, Miami wasn’t willing to offer Tucker the full mid-level — which he signed with the Sixers — because it would trigger the $157.0 million hard-cap; the team had nearly $119 million tied into Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, pending extensions for Martin, Victor Oladipo and Dewayne Dedmon in addition to Nikola Jovic’s contract ($2.2M) plus the remainder of its minimum contracts (Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Omer Yurtseven, Haywood Highsmith, Udonis Haslem).
Since it did not own Tucker’s bird rights, the most Miami was able to offer Tucker was a three-year, $26.5 million deal beginning at $8.4 million in 2022-23, instead of the $10.3 million he’s currently making with Philadelphia.
“I expressed that I didn’t want to leave. But their situation and them not wanting to be hard-capped, I knew it was going to be a possibility. My family is still there. So I obviously wanted to be there, but it didn’t work out.
“I think they wanted the negotiations to be a little slower than it was,” Tucker said. “Just because of the interest right off the bat. Nobody thought I was going to get three years and then to get multiple offers for a full three years, I was ready to move and figure it out.”
Philadelphia hard-capped itself with Tucker’s signing — was reported at the start of free agency — plus giving Danuel House the bi-annual extension; it was eventually found guilty of tampering, getting its 2023 and 2024 second-round picks revoked.
Tucker’s been open in the past about wanting to join the Sixers, previously commenting that he and James Harden tried to land with the Sixers in the same offseason he signed with Miami.
“Honestly, me and James were trying to come here the year before, so I kind of already knew the vibe and the rhythm of the team, it just made sense,” Tucker said at media day. “It just made sense, honestly.
“Especially being a vet. I can’t imagine playing for a team that’s not fighting for a championship anymore, you know, being in a situation you feel like you can’t win. I couldn’t do that. So picking the best situation for me and checking all the boxes, it just checked all the boxes.”
In the end, money oftentimes speaks louder than words.
Tucker’s scoring numbers dipped precipitously this season, posting averages of 3.6 points on 43.5 percent shooting from the floor. Though he’s shooting 42.6 percent from 3-point range — including 47.7 percent since the New Year — while also averaging 4.1 rebounds in 26.2 minutes. He had eight points with a pair of triples, four rebounds and two steals in 33 minutes in Miami’s 101-99 win over Philadelphia over Monday.
The two teams will meet in the second-game of their home-road back-to-back Wednesday evening in Miami-Dade Arena — Tucker’s first game back in Miami.