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.”

Tags: P.j Tucker

  • Ty-Sun

    I like this guy. Unless there’s an injury I don’t think he’ll see a lot of minutes but I’m fairly certain that he will give it all he’s got whenever he’s in the game, even during garbage time. And I think he’ll be a great practice player at least. At worst he could be a solid 12th man. At best he could hustle his way into some second team minutes at the 3 or even the 2 because of his defense and rebounding.

  • http://ballcruncher.com Mr. Cruncher

    Nice article, Kevin.

    I like the sound of his attitude as a 12th man, like you suggested. The signing smells of a move similar to what San Antonio routinely executes — bringing in a mid-20′s NBA castoff and turning him into a quality role player. We’ll see if Tucker is able to live up to that billing.

  • Scott

    Except … he’s probably going to be a 13th man, right?

  • http://ballcruncher.com Mr. Cruncher

    Scott, after the typical 9-10 man rotation, the next man in line essentially becomes who fits a need at that particular point in time. For instance, Warrick, Childress, and Price pretty much co-shared the 11-13 roster spots last year; not a discernible difference between the three players on the totem pole by year’s end.

  • Bill_Thomas

    Presumably the 13th guy will be another backup center. It is way past time
    to sign another shooting guard, with Willie Green
    and Brandon Rush having been spoken for.

    I hope the FO was not waiting for Green, Rush or Barbosa to send an expensively-engraved invitation.

  • Bill_Thomas

    Not to mention Redd.

  • bk

    It would be funny if he wears Alando Tucker jersey. :-p

  • http://jtshoopsblog.blogspot.com JT’s Hoops Blog

    How did he dop during his time in the NBA?

  • Animan

    I would like a back-up center signed already. Or at least a rumor of such an event. I’m losing my patience! The suns have done such a nice job this offseason, I fear they’ll somehow screw up the back-up center spot.

  • Scott

    I think the backup center will be the 12th man, because he’ll actually be getting play time this season, while PJ never will.

    On the other hand, it has sounded like Blanks wants to play Scola at C to start the year, and not get a backup big. I wouldn’t be surprised if this tactic is aimed at trying to get Beasley time at the 4 while Frye is out.

    So … if we listen to what Blanks is actually saying in public, that means the starters are: Dragic, Brown, Dudley, Beasley, Gortat. And the 2nd unit is Marshall, WJ, PJ, Morris, Scola?

    That would put Telfair in deep reserve and Frye on the injured list.

  • Greg

    I actually like that lineup. Beasley is much better at the 4, Dudley is much better defensively at the 3 (which he needs to focus on with Beas and Brown on floor). It gives us Brown in starting lineup, and if he cane tame is poor shot selection, he will be a go-to scorer when he is on his game.

    I only like the lineup if Scola gets a combined 30 mins between the 4 and 5 spots. If Scola doesnt get 30+, I hate it.

  • Greg

    can tame his*

  • Yohance

    @Scott I can deal with that line up. This would help the Suns to
    save some of their cap money for next year. I still think that the will eventually sign a low dollar serviceable center. I am kind of surprised nobody from any of the other teams summer league player did not stand out to at least be considered by the suns. I would not ind going after a veteran big man either. Frye really needs to play as a backup and I guess Scola can hold things down against the other teams backup centers. I just don’t want him getting beat up to badly cuz we will need him for the playoffs. That’s right I said it. I’m a true suns fan. I am very optimistic with all of the moves they made this off season. We will probably be in as an eighth seed or at least be one of the few teams vying for a playoff spot. If we don’t make it I think Gentry might not get a another deal. What are your thoughts on this guys and Michael do you agree with my assessments?

  • Greg

    I think its possible the Suns make the playoff if the new pieces gel together sooner rather than later. However, I think Golden State and Minnesota have more talented rosters then the Suns.
    Obviously, Lakers, Thunder, Spurs, Grizzlies, Clippers, Nuggest, and the Mavs all have better rosters, and you cant forget about the Jazz. The Suns, have talent, but their roster on paper is looking like the 11th team in the West. If Minnesotas Kirilenko and Roy moves dont work out as planned and Rubio misses the beginning portion of the season, then the Suns jump ahead. If Curry or Bogut get hurt for the Warriors, then the Suns jump ahead of them too. Then, that pits the Suns against the Mavs and Jazz for those finals couple of spots. The Mavs will have just as much, if not more problems getting their chemistry in order. They have 3 new starters and new role guys, just like the Suns. However, I take a team with Dirk and Mayo over a team with Scola and Goran….

    The Suns are on the bubble, and their question marks factor into making the playoffs or not. Not to mention other teams question marks as well.

  • Ty-Sun

    One thing that the Suns have over the Lakers, Spurs and Mavericks this year is youth. We are a lot younger team. Those guys are counting a lot on older key players and the older the player the more the tend to get injured.

    Honestly, I think the Mavs are the most likely to fall short of the playoffs due to injuries. Dirk has been more injury prone lately, Kaman has always been injury prone and Marion is no spring chicken either.

    And the Lakers have their own problems. I’d never wish an injury on Nash but he’s still had problems recently even though he’s been able to keep them in check so far. Then there is Kobe’s knee. Maybe it will hold up for another full season… or maybe not. And I think Bynum surprised everyone last year by making it through a full season without having some sort of injury that keep him out for an significant length of time.

    The Spurs will probably defy the injury bug but it’s still a possibility that it could drag them down a little but not put them out. Ginobili is 35 and Duncan is 36. Popovich will pull a rabbit out of his hat and get them into the playoffs somehow but anything that hurts them only helps the Suns in games they play against each other.

    And I’m not all that sold on Memphis either. They’ve had injury problems for the last two years. If they can avoid the bug this year then they are definitely a team to be afraid of but there is something about this team that seems a little “snake bit” to me. It’s an irrational “feeling” for sure but I believe that – while they will be very good this year – something will happen that will at least partially derail there season again.

    Golden State and Minnesota I really don’t see as being that much better than the Suns. If Curry’s ankles hold up and Bogut can make it through a season without breaking something else, they’ll be very tough. IF. And Rubio probably won’t be 100% even if he’s ready to play at the start of the season. They’ve made some good moves during the off season but I don’t think that they have a very strong bench. They are going to be very good this season but they still have some holes to fill.

    Who knows how it will all play out. If EVERYONE on every team remains healthy for the majority of the season, then yes the Suns could struggle to make the 8th seed. There are plenty of “ifs” both about the Suns and the other teams that I could explore endlessly so I’ll just end by saying that I think this team has a good shot at the playoffs and a solid future.

  • E.merge

    I think in order for the Suns to have a serious chance on competing on all levels is to switch up the rosters. Get rid of S.Telfair and C. Frye and pick up free agency centers H. Whiteside, S. Alabi and K. Fesenko. In doing that it enables S. Brown to slide down in the one spot. Moving J. Dudley to the two spot. W. Johnson and P.J. Tucker into the back up two, then moving L. Scola, M. Morris to the three. There they want be undersized in their position. Then allowing the bigs to play there natural position. That way we can compete with the big men around the league. We’ll have strong point that can attack defenses and finish strong or dish out to the wingmen that is more than capable knocking down shots (Nash was one of the top rank players an assist) so we have shooters and the big men provide down low presents.” I see nothing but success baby”

  • Michael

    P.J. Tucker ladies and gentlemen!

  • Gosuns

    Ty- sun your spot on I think ppl are over hyping the warriors they’ve been able to score in the past but not great on defense and mark Jackson is defense minded and they still need players that fit that mold they are still more lop sided towards offense, I don’t think the suns really need to sign a backup c unless it’s extremely cheap keep the big men we got scols can play 4&5 keiff can play 4&5 Beasley can play 3&4 and once Channing gets back he’ll peres good backup 5

  • Bill_Thomas

    What about a backup center, and should we sign Carlos Delfino just for shooting?

  • Bill_Thomas

    I take it Babby is on vacay until after Labor Day.

  • Bill_Thomas

    @Gosuns yeah, I love the idea of Kieff on Bynum, Howard, Al Jefferson, Duncan, B. Lopez, Bogut, Love,
    and on and on.

  • Bill_Thomas

    @Gosuns you’ve got English literacy classes everywhere for cheap, go for it!

  • Tim

    I am for signing a b/u center also. There are some big teams that we will be going against, and all it takes is for Gortat to get 2 fouls in the first quarter and we are going to play Scola or Morris? I could see that in some smaller lineups. I dont think we would ever line up Morris vs Bynum, Howard, Al, Duncan, Brook, or Bogut.

    The idea is they would play the BACKUP center position.

    The backups for those guys are J. Hill, Ayon, Kanter, Splitter, NJ doesnt have a bu center, Biedrens, and Pekovic. So yeah, I could see us throwing Morris out against them.

    I just like the idea of developing a center cuz they are so hard to come by. Probably the most difficult of all the positions and why they are overpaid, for the most part.

  • Ty-Sun

    Yeah, the Suns will need a backup 5 just in case Gortat gets in foul trouble or is injured. They can still go with a small lineup at times but they won’t be forced to do it. The problem is that I doubt any of the free agent centers still available would be able to do much better against the top centers in the NBA than Scola or Morris. But they still do need another 5 for insurance.

  • Ty-Sun

    The more I’ve thought on it the less I think that the Suns absolutely need another 5. Even Gortat isn’t going to stop Howard or Bynum and any of the FA centers still on the market would get eaten alive by either of those two and many other starting centers in the NBA. Neither Scola nor Morris would be able to guard them well but both of them could pull other centers out of their comfort zones guarding them. And if you pull true centers away from the hoop to guard their men then it opens things up inside more for everyone else. It’s NOT the best plan but it could work out better than bringing in a 7 foot stiff that other NBA centers would continuously posterize.

    • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

      @Ty-Sun Well, the Suns “need” a backup center just from the standpoint that they are one below the roster minimum of 13 so they HAVE to sign somebody. It clearly won’t be a point guard or power forward and now they have plenty of wings, so just based on the fact that Gortat is their only “true” center (especially while Frye is hurt), it makes sense to sign some kind of backup five. I do agree with what you said though (no backup five they sign at this point will help against stud centers), but so long as they need to sign a roster spot they may as well do it with a very large man who offers six fouls.

  • Gosuns

    @bill Thomas read Tim’s comment. Also, I usually check out this blog on my cell phone so i don’t really care about making sure my syntax and grammar are perfect.

  • Ty-Sun

    I agree, Michael. The Suns should sign another 5. I was just commenting on the fact that the FA 5 pickings are pretty slim at this point and none of them are really going to be able to take on other starting centers better than Scola or Morris. It really is just a need for, as you put it, “a very large man who offers six fouls.”

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