Heat draws Irving’s interest, wants to keep Tucker but has options

The Heat will enter the start of free agency on June 30 hoping to re-sign forward PJ Tucker, who’s expected to draw interest from several Eastern Conference contenders, and with a dozen or so power rotation options potentially available if he bolts.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this week that the 76ers plan to offer Tucker a three-year, $30 million contract.

Though the Heat can offer him a similar deal, that would require Miami allocating its full $10.3 million mid-level exception (triggering a hard cap for the Heat at $155 million next season) and Tucker would be on the payroll until he’s 40.

Miami’s other alternative for Tucker – who is opting out of a $7.2 million contract for next season – is signing a multi-year deal with Miami, starting at $8.4 million through the utilization of his Early Bird rights. The question remains whether Miami wants to go as far out as three years and $27 million with that type of Early Bird contract.

Tucker, 37, said a few months ago that he would like to play at least two or three more seasons, and possibly five or more.

Where could the Heat turn if Tucker bolts?

Beyond Heat forward Caleb Martin – who’s a looming restricted free agent – and impending unrestricted free agent Markieff Morris (who wasn’t in the Heat’s playoff rotation), here’s a look at the top power forwards or combo forwards set to hit unrestricted free agency next week, in no particular order:

▪ Taurean Prince: A 6-7 combo forward, Prince appeared in 69 games and started eight for Minnesota last season, averaging 7.3 points and 2.5 rebounds and shooting 37.6 percent on threes.

Prince, 28, averaged 12.1 points and 6.0 rebounds and shot 33.9 percent on threes in his most recent season as a full-time starter, 2019-20 with Brooklyn. He’s a skilled and versatile defender.

▪ Thaddeus Young: The Heat has inquired about him before, but at 34, he would be only a stopgap.

He split time between Toronto and San Antonio last season, playing 26 games for each and averaging just 6.2 points and 4.0 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game. He shot 35.4 on threes last season and is a career 33.2 percent three-point shooter.

▪ Otto Porter Jr.: A 6-8 combo forward, Porter averaged 8.2 points and 5.7 rebounds in 63 games and 15 starts for the Warriors, shooting 37 percent on threes.

He appeared in 19 playoff games and shot 9 of 16 on threes in the Finals against Boston; he was inserted in the starting lineup in Game 4 and played between 13 and 15 minutes in Games 4, 5 and 6.

Injuries have diminished his lateral quickness defensively, but he’s a solid team defender.

Porter has pocketed $123 million in his NBA career and played last season for the $2.4 million veteran’s minimum; according to Yahoo, he turned down full mid-level offers elsewhere to play with the Warriors.

He likely will command a full $10.3 million mid-level exception somewhere; Golden State can offer him no more than the $6.4 million tax-payer mid-level.

▪ Joe Ingles: The veteran combo forward is a career 40.8 percent shooter on threes, with averages of 8.6 points and 3.2 rebounds. But he’s coming off a torn ACL sustained last January. Utah dealt him to Portland a few days after that injury.

▪ TJ Warren: He’s as good as any player on this list, and better than most, but the 6-8 combo forward hasn’t played since December 2020 because of a stress fracture in his foot.

Then there’s the less important issue of his messy incident with Jimmy Butler in a January 2020 game, a matter that easily could be settled with a phone call between the two.

In his final full season as a starter before the injury, he was very good, averaging 19.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and shooting 40.3 on threes. At 28, he’s still in his prime.

Though he has played small forward throughout his career, he has the size (6-8, 220) and toughness to play power forward in the modern game.

▪ Kyle Anderson: After averaging 12.4 points and shooting 36 percent as a 69-game starter in 2020-21, Anderson averaged 7.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and shot 33 percent on threes in 69 games and 13 starts for Memphis last season.

The 6-9 swing forward hopes to do better than a full mid-level.

▪ Chris Boucher: The 6-9 center/power forward hopes to command more than a mid-level. Though he has evolved into a good player with Toronto, the wide disparity in three-point shooting could be a concern for teams looking for a stretch four: he shot 38.3 percent on threes two seasons ago, 29.7 this past season.

▪ Bobby Portis: The Heat had some interest in him last year before Portis took a value deal with the Bucks for $4.3 million. Now he’s reportedly expected to decline his $4.6 million player option.

Portis averaged a career-high 14.6 points and 9.1 rebounds while shooting 39.3 percent on threes and starting 59 games.

The question is whether he will get a multi-year deal at higher than the full $10.3 million mid-level exception.

▪ Nic Batum: The 6-8 combo forward averaged 8.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and shot 40 percent on threes in 59 games, including 54 starts, for the Clippers.

Yahoo reports that the 33-year-old Batum is expected to draw interest from the Bulls, Celtics, Lakers, Suns and Jazz.

▪ Blake Griffin: The former All Star – now 33 – remains in steep decline, averaging 6.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and shooting 26.2 percent on threes in 56 games and 24 starts for the Nets last season.

▪ Carmelo Anthony: Not a fit here because of defense. He averaged 13.3 points and shot 37.5 percent on threes in 69 games for the Lakers, including three starts.

Among hypothetical trade options, Sacramento’s Harrison Barnes and Charlotte’s PJ Washington would be appealing, but there’s no indication that either is available.

Christian Wood and Jerami Grant – players of interest in the Heat in the past – were dealt in recent days to Dallas and Portland, respectively.

HEAT ON KYRIE’S LIST

The Heat is among the teams that would interest seven-time All Star guard Kyrie Irving if he opts to leave the Brooklyn Nets, ESPN reported Thursday.

Adrian Wojnarowski reported that if Irving “can’t reach an agreement to stay with Brooklyn, he has a list of teams he’d like them to consider on sign-and-trades, including the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, Heat, Mavs and 76ers. None of those teams have cap space to sign him without the Nets’ help…. Those are teams who Irving has interest in, but he isn’t necessarily a priority for all of them, sources said.”

The Heat will be operating as a over-the-cap team, meaning Miami would need to execute a sign-and-trade to acquire Irving if he opts out of the final year of his contract, unless he shockingly took the $10.3 million mid- level exception.

If Miami pursued any such trade, it likely would need to include Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro, plus draft picks, to make it work from a cap standpoint, presuming that Butler and Bam Adebayo would not be part of any such deal.

Irving hasn’t said if he will exercise his $36.5 million player option for next season. It’s unclear if the Nets are willing to give him a max extension after a season in which he missed home games because of his refusal to get vaccinated, a requirement to play under New York City’s vaccine policy.

Since joining the Nets in 2019, Irving has played in just 103 of 226 possible games.

Irving, 30, averaged 27.4 points and 5.8 assists while shooting 46.9 percent and 41.8 percent on threes in 29 games for the Nets last season. He has averaged 23.1 points in 11 NBA seasons.

Irving’s interest in the Heat has led to a social media re-circulation of a five-year old interview in which Butler mentioned Irving when asked with whom he would like to play.

“I’d probably have to go with my favorite player who’s not myself, and that’s Kyrie,” Butler said on First Take in 2017. “I love Kyrie’s game, and he’s a really good dude. I like Kyrie.”

The Heat has long admired Irving’s skill set, according to a source, but it’s unclear to what lengths the Heat would go to acquire a player whose availability has become a major issue.

This story was originally published June 23, 2022 5:54 PM.

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Barry Jackson has written for the Miami Herald since 1986 and has written the Florida Sports Buzz column since 2002.

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