Does Heat carousel at power forward stop spinning with PJ Tucker? – The Mercury News

When it comes to the Miami Heat power rotation, it has been a revolving door through the last three seasons, Bam Adebayo routinely with a different plus-one.

First it was Meyers Leonard and Adebayo. A successful pairing at the start of the franchise’s resurrection in 2019-20 from lottery depths.

After that season’s trading deadline, it was Jae Crowder and Adebayo, a pairing that helped lift the Heat to the 2020 NBA Finals.

It then turned into the surprisingly efficient pairing of Kelly Olynyk and Adebayo early during 2020-21, after Crowder left for the Phoenix Suns in 2020 free agency and first-round pick Precious Achiuwa proved too raw.

Then it was Trevor Ariza and Adebayo through the 2021 playoff race and postseason, after injury and an anti-Semitic slur ended Leonard’s Heat run.

And this season, with Ariza off unsuccessfully chasing a ring with LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Heat settled into the comfort zone of PJ Tucker and Adebayo, a season-long collaboration that took the Heat within one game of the NBA Finals.

Now the question is whether stability can finally be maintained, bringing back an Adebayo power-rotation partner for an encore.

Because if Tucker does not opt ​​into his $7.4 million player option for next season with the Heat, then the 37-year-old power forward will head into free agency, just as Crowder and Ariza preceded him.

“He was so important, all across the board,” coach Erik Spoelstra said this week, as his players headed into their offseasons, “that competitive spirit, his competitive will, his consistent play, toughness that you could just count on every single day . And he has a way of communicating that and inspiring everybody in the locker room that he is so genuine.”

Even as he battled calf and knee injuries to the finish, Tucker said he felt rejuvenated this season, after winning a championship last season with the Milwaukee Bucks and then being cast aside amid salary-cap concerns.

But he also felt underpaid considering the contribution.

So, once again, a potential conundrum for Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg and the Heat front office at power forward.

As it was, Tucker was well aware this season that he was playing for less than the mid-level exception.

As a starter.

On a championship-contending roster.

“It’s like, ‘Am I a mid-level guy?’ ” he said to the Sun Sentinel in a tone that made it clear he believed he was not. “It’s a label that tells a guy what you think he is worth.”

Based on the team’s season-ending comments, they value Tucker, appreciate he might be closer to 37 going on 32.

But this also is a team that has drawn a line at power forward.

“To everybody in the locker room, it’s really a special, genuine feeling when you have somebody that is committed to winning and helping other guys,” Spoelsrta said. “He’s so unselfish, you know, as a player, always taking on the biggest challenges. Defensively, he’ll do all the little things, the dirty work, the tough things, and never complain about it. He never complains or talks about his shots his.

“He’s just completely selfless, an absolite throwback player. That’s why he’s beloved by staff and everybody in the locker room.”

Based on where the Heat roster stands, the largest void is at power forward, where Tucker lacked a true backup this season.

Achiuwa, the 2020 Heat first-round pick who emerged as a stretch-four for the Raptors this season, was dealt last summer in the sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry.

KZ Okpala, who had filled in at power forward early during the season, was summarily dismissed to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the February 10 NBA trading deadline, out of the league since.

And Caleb Martin, who stood as the de facto backup power forward when Tucker was sidelined this season, is far more of a wing, and, now, an impending free agent.

While Adebayo potentially could shift to power forward with Omer Yurtseven moving in at center, Adebayo has yet to play as a starter without a 3-pointer shooter alongside in the power rotation.

If player input, more than salary scale, can sway the decision, then Tucker will be back.

“I was surprised at just how hard and how consistent and just how tough PJ is,” Heat captain Udonis Haslem said this week. “I mean there are very few guys that I feel approach the game every night the way I did. You know what I’m saying? And PJ just happened to be one of ’em. So I was just thankful to have a guy like PJ on our team.”

But now there again is uncertainty, as there has been each of the past three seasons, about whether the relationship at power forward will endure.

“He fits us,” Spoelstra said of Tucker. “We love what he does.”

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