P.J. Tucker calls return to NBA 'a long time coming'

PHOENIX — P.J. Tucker’s signing with the Phoenix Suns is about relationships and destiny.

The former Texas Longhorn had been on Lance Blanks’ radar for quite a while; the Suns’ general manager, remember, played for Texas himself. And following a short stint in the NBA after being taken 35th overall by the Toronto Raptors in 2006, Phoenix’s need for depth at the wing and Blanks’ role in filling it made the fit something close to perfect.

In 2006, Blanks was with the Cleveland Cavaliers as vice president of basketball operations and assistant general manager. After the Raptors snapped Tucker up, Blanks kept an eye on the forward who was more of a big man in a small forward’s body coming out of college.

“We continued to observe him through the years,” Blanks said after the team officially inked Tucker on Wednesday. “He had a stint in the NBA, went overseas — Israel, Germany, Italy — and we brought him back this year, and wow, I think the whole staff was blown away by one, the maturation, and two, the growth we’ve seen on and off the court. From that point, it was just the natural deal flow, and [it became] obvious we should have him here in our organization and in a Phoenix Suns jersey.”

Tucker credits his return to the NBA after leaving the league in 2007 to maturity. He’s learned the business side of basketball to evolve from a guy who was admittedly not ready for the professional life after leaving Texas into a player whose role it will be to show a now young Phoenix squad the ropes.

“It’s been a very long time coming,” Tucker said. “For me, it’s just coming in and working hard, being a help to guys in any way I can on and off the court, being there for young guys having been through it — being a younger veteran and really knowing how the business goes.”

Tucker said he has become a new man since leaving the country. Since, he became a league MVP in the Ukraine and the leading scorer in Israel. He was most recently with Brose Baskets in Germany, where he led the team and averaged 16.2 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.

As for his return to the NBA, credit goes to growing up overseas.

“I’ve been all around the world playing,” Tucker said. “At some point you have to take in account your actions, what you do and what it takes to be able to grow in this business, to be able to have people want to bring you in, have people want to always say your name, and having you be around in the topic of conversation.

“So for that to happen — more than points, rebounds — it’s that this guy is a great guy on and off the court, great teammate, great guy in the locker room and guys like to play with him.”

On the court, Tucker is known as a bulldog. That’s what earned him a two-year deal, the first year being a partial guarantee, according to Paul Coro. And as Coro notes, Tucker is taking a heavy pay cut to take a second stab at playing in the most competitive league in the world.

With the Suns’ Summer League team in Las Vegas, Tucker averaged 5.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, yet Phoenix already had heavily considered him as a roster addition prior to the performances, Blanks said.

Learning a role he can play in the league has been key to Tucker proving to the Suns that he’s a legitimate 12th man in the NBA. Accepting that role was part of the learning curve that brought Tucker back to the NBA despite him finding success and comfort playing in Europe and Puerto Rico. At 6-foot-6 and 224 pounds, Tucker’s build makes him an ideal candidate to add to Phoenix’s versatility defensively.

How does he describe the role he’ll play?

“Just being a reliable guy that you can always count on,” Tucker said, “tough defense, being able to be an option, always to be able to come in and guard anyone on the court — pretty much any position. And be a great teammate.”

And offensively, Tucker shouldn’t hinder Phoenix’s ability to stretch the floor, something that became obviously problematic with defensive stopper Josh Childress in the past few seasons. Tucker shot 47.5 percent from the FIBA three-point line in 44 games with Brose Baskets last year.

The fit looks good on paper for both Tucker and the Suns. Behind the wing rotation of Jared Dudley, Shannon Brown and Wes Johnson, the Suns’ new 12th man will be waiting for his second shot in the NBA.

“(There’s) great opportunity here … for me to be able to be a part and kind of be a glue guy to help the transition,” Tucker said. “There are a lot of good players here. I think it could be a successful team.”

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