The Miami Heat sorted out much of their undercard at Thursday night’s start of NBA free agency, retaining guard Victor Oladipo and center Dewayne Dedmon, but losing starting power forward P.J. Tucker to the Philadelphia 76ers.
But all eyes remained on what assuredly will be the main event of this offseason, with the Heat included in the short list of preferred destinations by Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, who on Thursday issued a trade demand.
The loss of Tucker stings was but was not unexpected, with the 76ers utilizing their full non-taxpayer mid-level exception on the 37-year-old power forward, in a three-year, $33 million agreement.
The Heat declined to match that contract because it would have left them playing under a hard cap, making a mega-trade for a player such as Durant all the more difficult.
Tucker started 70 games for the Heat during the regular season, 18 in the playoffs. He signed a two-year, $14 million contract with the Heat last August and then opted out of the second year of that deal earlier this week.
The Heat’s offer to Tucker was three years at $27 million, starting at $8.4 million next season. The 76ers’ offer started at $10.5 million next season, but left Philadelphia under a hard salary cap for the coming season.
Teammates, including Jimmy Butler, had lobbied Tucker for a return.
Oladipo, who has spent the past two seasons with the Heat rehabilitating a knee injury, agreed to return on a one-year, $11 million contract.
The Heat utilized Oladipo’s Bird Rights to retain the 30-year-old guard, allowed to exceed the salary cap because of the guard’s tenure with the team.
Dedmon, who has provided quality support behind starting center Bam Adebayo, agreed to return on a two-year, $9 million contract.
Like Oladipo, the 32-year-old center, was retained utilizing his Bird Rights.
The agreements with Oladipo and Dedmon and the loss of Tucker left the status of the Heat’s three remaining free agents still undetermined: Caleb Martin, Markieff Morris and Udonis Haslem. The Heat sent a team representative to Haslem’s vacation home in Orlando at the start of free agency to encourage to return for a 20th season with the team.
While free-agent negotiations opened Thursday, agreements cannot be signed until Wednesday’s conclusion of the NBA offseason signing moratorium.
Earlier, even before the start of free agency, the league was put on notice of an impending seismic shift, with NBA sources telling the Sun Sentinel they expected Durant, 33, to be moved amid the league’s personnel frenzy.
ESPN reported that Miami is on a short list of preferred destinations for Durant, as well as the Phoenix Suns. But with four seasons and $198 million remaining on his contract, Durant is not necessarily in control of his destination.
Another domino of the Durant decision is a likely Nets trade of guard Kyrie Irving.
The Heat over the years have been linked to interest in both Durant and Irving, including a free-agency courtship of Durant before he joined the Golden State Warriors.
Although avoidance of the hard cap eases trade permutations for the Heat, there is a salary-cap component that also could prove problematic in a bid for Durant.
Under NBA rules, teams cannot have multiple players on their roster who are under designated maximum rookie-scale extensions and have been acquired in trades. Ben Simmons currently holds that status with Brooklyn, meaning in order to add Adebayo in a potential deal, the Nets would have to trade Simmons.
As for Irving, the Nets seemingly would be amicable to a deal involving guard Tyler Herro, but the Heat have not shown such inclination for any deal for Irving.
As far as those previously linked to Heat interest in free agency, Bradley Beal agreed to a maximum contract to remain with the Washington Wizards, Bobby Portis remained with the Milwaukee Bucks and Thaddeus Young stayed with the Toronto Raptors.