P.J. Tucker fulfills promises, finds his place


Failure’s traditional plot in the NBA — where niches are as important as the fairytale dreams of superstardom — generally begins with talent and bloated heads. It’s not P.J. Tucker’s story, though he’ll admit to once having a bloated head.

If there was one success of former general manager Lance Blanks’ tenure, it was bringing the former second-round draft pick back to the NBA. In a very Ryan McDonough type of way, Blanks kept his eye on Tucker, although it might’ve only been because the two have the same alma mater.

Nevertheless, things worked out. Tucker’s reclamation project began with himself, not anything the team did to develop him. Tucker said that he entered the league out of Texas with an immaturity that as the 35th overall pick in 2006 made his time with the Toronto Raptors short. Traveling from Germany, to Israel, to Puerto Rico, Tucker grew into a league MVP in Ukraine and learned that he was no NBA star – but he had the talent to make the league as a gritty defender.

“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,” Tucker said after signing with the Suns, “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.”

Whether it was then-coach Alvin Gentry, Summer League coach Dan Majerle, interim Lindsey Hunter or Blanks, the Suns’ staff could always circle back to Tucker’s name. It was, after all, one of the few positives in a lost year.

Tucker was also arguably the most consistent player on a Phoenix Suns team where even its best players – Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat – displayed varying levels of inconsistency. He promised before the season that was one thing he could bring.

Of all the Suns’ goals set before the year, Tucker’s might’ve had the only ones that panned out.

Signed as a fill-in 12th man, fight and consistency became Tucker’s M.O. in 2012-13. It came quickly, too. Gentry turned to Tucker as a starter on Dec. 12, 2012, to stop eventual scoring champion Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The nod on New Years Eve was representative of Tucker’s resolution as a person to mature into the teammate he is today.

Often, he was the one Suns player that spoke both candidly and with the most genuine tone.

“It sucks,” Tucker said after a 117-86 home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 22. “I don’t know how to put that. It sucks. I hate losing. I’m a competitor, I hate losing. I hate being in positions where … I got to do these interviews. It pisses me off. So for me, we got to get ready for Sunday. Brooklyn ain’t going to come in here and say, ‘Aw they ain’t got no bigs, ah, we going to lay down, we going to take it easy on ‘em.’ They’re going to try to knock our heads off.”

Tucker, whose contract is unguaranteed and ends after this season, showed throughout the year that he wasn’t a terribly great offensive weapon, but he wasn’t a black hole either. He didn’t let the ball stick and played within the offense well enough. In the 28 games after the All-Star break, Tucker scored 8.1 points per game and grabbed 5.3 rebounds in just more than 27 minutes a game. During April, he shot 54 overall and from three-point range while averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per night in eight games.

Many of his points came from offensive rebounds or hustle points.

As the year went on, he grew more comfortable taking shots, especially as a corner-three-point shooter. That could help him remain as a piece of the pie should the Suns do work on upgrading the roster this season – or it could help him build value as an upcoming free agent.

Tucker had 17 games of NBA experience with the Raptors in his first NBA stint. After a five-year hiatus across the world, he finished his first full season with 79 games played and 45 starts for Phoenix. Any advanced statistics on the defensive end probably do Tucker less justice than any other player on the Suns roster. He was often given the toughest defensive assignment on a team whose team defense was still learning proper rotations in April, allowing zero room for error.

From point guards, to wings, to stretch 4s, Tucker saw it all. Hunter often leaned upon him to save Dragic’s legs against a league deep in point guard talent. When it wasn’t that, it was likely the task of attempting to frustrate Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. Whatever it was, whenever it was, Tucker was fighting.

A Jan. 30 game against the Lakers ended with a 92-86 Suns victory and might be more well-known for as Steve Nash’s return to Phoenix or for one of Michael Beasley’s rare big games. But Tucker’s defense was just as important in the scheme of the individual game, and by the end of it Hunter said that Tucker “has got to be one of the best defenders in the league.” This was early in Bryant’s sudden phase of being a distributor, but the Suns small forward held the future Hall of Famer to 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting. Bryant also had six turnovers. He went 0-for-5 in the final six minutes, including a contested airball and the most important play of the game.

The Suns led 88-86 and with 23 seconds left, and Bryant blew by Tucker on the left wing. Tucker didn’t give up on the play. He hustled to meet Bryant at the cup and did just enough to shoulder into Bryant, who put up the shot with his left hand.

Bryant missed the layup.

As if to sum up his place with the team and his belonging in the league, Tucker solidified his status as the warrior who will plug away during the good times and the bad.

Counting the number of successful NBA players who entered the league with maturity problems and less-than-ideal talent might take a single hand. But credit to Tucker’s redefined NBA role shouldn’t go to the Suns for noticing him or developing him. All of it should go to Tucker himself, one of the few players to grow from a rookie bitter over playing time to a starter leaning on not being the superstar, but stopping them.

Coaching search continues

Both Adrian Wojnarowski and Paul Coro report that the Suns have begun their head-coaching search with interim coach Lindsey Hunter. He met with GM Ryan McDonough in Chicago as the front office staff attends the draft combine. The rest of the list includes Lakers assistant Steve Clifford, Jazz assistant Jeff Hornacek, CSKA Moscow’s Quin Snyder and Rockets assistants Kelvin Sampson and J.B. Bickerstaff.

Coro reports that the team would very much like the coach in place as draft workouts begin in the next few weeks. That seemingly hurts coaching candidates who are in the middle of playoffs runs. Top assistants in that group include Brian Shaw of Indiana and the Spurs’ Mike Budenholzer, who is from Holbrook, Ariz.

There is the possibility the Suns could also take a look at Warriors assistant Mike Malone following Golden State’s exit from the postseason last night. Malone has developed quite the reputation as a defensive mind under head coach Mark Jackson.

  • Nick

    KD wasn’t the scoring champ Melo was. Good read though, we all love PJ

  • Dominik

    I was pretty sad, when I heard PJ was about to leave Bamberg for St. Petersburg last spring.
    Seeing him on the Suns’ summer league roster got me excited. His stats weren’t what I expected. While being known for his scoring, rebounding and passion in Germany, he turned out to be a great glue guy and hustle player.
    He has had a couple of nice scoring outbursts, too. I think he could be a guy like or even better than Tony Allen – while being solid on the offensive end.
    PJ deserves to remain a part of that team, I’d LOVE to see him back next season.
    I’m aware that basically everyone is on the trading block, but retaining him and Dragic seems neccessary to me.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    There is always a place for a guy like Tucker….a true professional.

    FWIW…Oladipo & McLemore tied for the best max vertical among the guards at 42″ .

    Kenny Caldwell-Pope is the fastest guard there while Shabazz suffered through a bad shooting performance.

  • Ty-Sun

    Tucker was probably the biggest “value” player in the NBA last year and could be again next season. Hopefully he stays with the Suns. Based on his performance, I think that the Suns should reward him by renegotiating his contract to give him a pay raise.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    @ Scott rom previous article

    Goodwin has a special ability to get to the rack & finish in traffic….although obviously that is much tougher to do in the NBA…he also can pull up for a 12-15 footer but anything beyond that is an adventure to put it mildly.
    Goodwin also seems to possess a certain swagger or innate toughness that will serve him well in the future.

    Next year though, I expect him to see plenty of time in the D-League refining his game.

    4 more days….then the discussion will really begin.

  • Forever is2long

    Hawk i saw a little of the combine this morning.I see that Burke measured at 6’1′ in shoes and Michael Carter Williams had good lateral quickness as well as good hops. Yeah I saw that Oladipo and McLemore had 42″verticals. I heard last night that both Shabazz and Goodwin did not distinguish b themselves yesterday as they both struggled with their shot. I think the French center, Golbert did really well yesterday.

  • Forever is2long

    Hawk,
    I saw a little of the combine this morning. I see that Burke measured at 6’1? in shoes and Michael Carter Williams had good lateral quickness as well as good hops. Yeah I saw that Oladipo and McLemore had 42?verticals. I heard last night that both Shabazz and Goodwin did not distinguish themselves yesterday as they both struggled with their shot. I think the French center, Golbert did really well yesterday.

  • Forever is2long

    What does “Your comment is awaiting moderation” mean?

  • Scott

    I’m disappointed with the coaching search. If the Suns are being upfront their picks, I don’t see any of these guys as being such a cornerstone to the rebuilding effort that they need to be selected before training camp.

    If they just need a coach for Summer League, they could probably pick up Eric Musselman for the three weeks, assuming he’s on vacation from ASU and wouldn’t mind spending time in Las Vegas.

    @Ty-Sun -

    I’d like to see the Suns pay Tucker a little more as well, not going overboard, but at least $1.5 m, or basically double his current pay. It’s fair to pay him more, and I think it makes it a little easier to trade him for a rookie, too.

    @hawki -

    I expect Goodwin will get better as a shooter. He’s shooting 27% from 3 and 64% from the FT line, which is not attractive. He needs to spend his summer shooting.

    As for him spending time with the D-League … well, if he was drafted by the Suns, if they’re as talent depleted at SG as I’m expecting, they could be giving a guy like Goodwin regular minutes.

  • Scott

    @forever -

    These days, if your comment is awaiting moderation it means it will never show up on VotS. Schwartz used to patrol the comments and moderate, but none of the current staff does that.

    I’ll send a note to Schwartz and let him know. He’ll probably get it fixed right away.

  • Forever is2long

    Thanks Scott.

  • Ty-Sun

    $1.5 mil per year would be my upper range for a pay increase but NOT because it would make him easier to trade. Tucker is not only a hard worker but a good character guy who is good for building team chemistry. I think he could become a great team leader if he feels as though the Suns are behind him. He’s already had a kick in the pants by being banished from the NBA and having to play overseas for a few years. Perhaps that would be the wake up call for Marshall, Johnson and the Morris twins as well. I’m not sure if anything will ever wake up Beasley though.

  • DBreezy

    @Foreveris,

    Yeah I had a simple one line comment about Burke’s height yesterday, that I believe is still awaiting moderation. I told myself that the computer must have felt it was too short coming from me! Got to see Golbert for the first time too, he’s interesting although he doesn’t have much of a vertical. I didn’t get to see much of Goodwin shooting, but what I did see looked bad. Bazz seems to be in the middle of some gamesmanship. There are reports on NBA.com and SI.com that ripped him , but there are other reports from Hoopsworld and a few other places that said he did himself good yesterday by showing up, in the interviews, and with his effort. The ESPN crew said his body looked good and Jay Williams claimed that the scouts from SA really liked how hard he plays every possession. To be continued, as I think we’ll see even more games with players once the order is established next week.

    @Scott,

    I watched Goodwin a lot this year as I saw the Suns likely picking around 8 and felt he might be a steal there. I really expected him to improve as the season wore on as most of Cal’s guards do, but it didn’t really happen for him. Where his head is at work ethic wise is going to be huge with him, as to me it’s basically the difference between him being a player or being a younger, skinnier Alec Burks.

    As for the coaching search, I think there may be a bit of spin doctoring going on. They may not like what they’re hearing interest wise from their preferred candidate so rather than make a spectacle of it, perhaps they’re just trying to get the best of who’s willing to take the job. For example, how different is this job than the Magic one last year that Shaw admitted that he turned down over the roster? The Magic seem to have lucked out with Vaughn, but they seemed pretty close to a Mike Dunlap situation. Not coincidentally there are reports out of the combine that the Suns could be considering some college coaches.

  • foreveris2long

    Dbreezy, I saw that Shabazz did not shoot well today but executives liked his effort and the fact he competed when most projected lottery picks opted out. CJ McCullom received some nice publicity today. I have never seen him play so I am neutral on him. However one so-called expert suggested if someone wanted Trey Burke they could trade down get multiple picks and be just as happy with McCullom.

    Man I am not opposed to a college coach. Dunlap from what I read, went overboard in trying to discipline the veterans causing him to become unpopular despite increasing their win total. I wonder if Univ of Washington coach, Lorenzo Romar ever considered coaching in the NBA. He has an excellent relationship with his players and has produced a number of NBA players.

    Scott,
    What little I saw of Goodwin, impressed me athletically but not being close to being NBA ready. However since I doubt I watch one entire game I am going to defer to you as to whether he would be an asset at #30.

    I saw a comparison chart that compared to Dieng to Theo Ratliff. Some way some how we need Dieng unless Noel if healthy falls to the Suns.

  • DBreezy

    @Foreveris,

    If you’re talking about ESPN’s panel of draft ‘experts’, the only ones I really listened to were Tom Penn and Jay Williams. Fraschilla is just a better spoken Vitale-iow he’s a collegiate purist who hates what the one and done rule has done to the NCAA. He generally only speaks highly of people who have completed two or more years of school, everybody else is between a long term project or garbage. Ford seems like a fanboy who has used his ESPN cred to get in with GM types. His opinions are basically what he’s been fed that day. Nothing wrong with reporting what you’ve been hearing, but don’t blow in the wind especially during this time of year where all kinds of lies are told.

  • Scott

    @DBreezy -

    For the record, I did not like Alec Burks as a pick at all. His performance so far for Utah has been about what I expected. For whatever reason a lot people bought into hype on him, and he seems to me to be a headcase on top of that.

    Speaking of hype, it was pretty funny to listen to the commentators on the Combine broadcast. Steven Adams had just done a shoot around where he was nailing everything, and one of the guys asked each of the rest which C they thought was better: Adams or Zeller. All of them responded, having just seen the shooting exhibition, “Adams!”

    Then Zeller does a few inches better the in the verticals and gives a good interview, and they’re all, “Well, Zeller is a top pick! He’s a competitor, an elite athlete, and a scorer, and you know what you’re getting with him.”

    Basically, the commentators blow with the wind, and mainly blow a lot of smoke, anything to get people excited over the draft.

    Anyway, despite the hype, with Adams revealing he not only has size but can shoot, I could see him going much higher. He might even be the top C pick, especially since there’s a growing realization that Noel and Zeller would probably play PF.

  • Scott

    Oh, heh, I see that DBreezy beat me to the analysts “blowing with the wind” observation. :)

  • Scott

    Okay … I’m just going to say it. This draft order could get shaken a bit, and Steven Adams could go #1.

    Noel was weighed and he turned out to be 206 lbs. Is he a center or a point guard? He’s going to have to gain 40-50 lbs before he can play center, and 30 lbs before he can play PF. Once he recovers from his ACL injury, that is.

    Ben McLemore compares himself to future Hall of Famer Ray Allen, and the real Ray Allen went #5. McLemore ought to go significantly lower than 5 in a normal draft.

    I was pleased to hear Otto Porter say he most resembles Tayshaun Prince – as that’s what I said too – but keep in mind Prince went at #23.

    Oladipo keeps getting compared to Tony Allen, who went 25th.

    Steven Adams is a legit 7′ in shoes, with a wingspan of 7′ 5″ and he weighs 255 lbs. So he’s got more height, length, and weight than was earlier reported. It was also reported that he “is not much of a threat” as a shooter, shooting only 44% from FT, but at the Combine he canned shot after shot right out to the 3 pt line. Now maybe he’s like Luke Zeller and can only shoot when he’s not in a game, but there’s nothing mechanically wrong with his shot.

    Adams reminds me of Vucevic. Vucevic was derided as a Euro stiff and consigned to the middle of the 2nd round. When he showed up at the Combine and demonstrated he was actually fluid, athletic, and could shoot, he went at #16 … and that was still too low. Vucevic had a PER of 18 last season. Adams could likely do the same.

    Though he’s as big as Oden, he can run in transition and has quick feet. Though Zeller and Kadji could jump about 5″ higher, Adams can still play above the rim and finish with both hands. He’s a rim protector; ranked #6 in blocks per 40. He ranks 3rd in offensive rebounds.

    So he’s raw, but he can defend, block, and apparently shoot, and he’s got top quality size and length at age 19. Len is his closest match, and while Len often has foul trouble, Adams fouls significantly less.

    So while Adams is young and a project, he’s trending in the right direction. IMO, looking at his potential, he’s a top talent in this draft. As a big, he should go in the lottery, and he should go before Noel and Len, who are even less ready than Adams.

    And I think I would put Zeller at #2, projecting him to play PF, and again, doing a better job of that than Noel. Zeller might compare to LaMarcus Aldridge (himself a #2 pick), but with a lot more athleticism (LMA’s no step vertical was 26.5″ and his max vertical was 34″).

    Have I gone crazy? Possibly. But if Adams resembles an Oden with good knees, and Oden was a #1, shouldn’t Adams be a #1? And if Zeller is a more athletic LaMarcus, who was a #2, shouldn’t Zeller be a #2?

  • Scott

    ^^ Wait a sec here … I got some vertical numbers mixed up … and I think I will go with reach not leap, as that’s what’s important.

    Reach -

    Zeller: 11′ 9.5″ standing, 11′ 11.5″ max
    Adams: 11′ 6″ standing, 11′ 10.5″ max

    So while scouts say Zeller lacks explosiveness, he was #1 in standing vertical reach, despite lacking a long wingspan. He really can jump.

    Steven Adams at this point doesn’t jump quite as well, but his long wings get him into 7th place on the standing reach.

    On the max reach, probably not so important for bigs, Zeller was 6th, and Adams was #10.

    What this means to me is that both Zeller and Adams are going to be able to elevate for rebounds and putbacks, and do so better than nearly everyone else in this class.

    Also, scouting was divided on whether Zeller has lateral quickness. I think he may have settled that issue at the Combine, but I have no data on it yet.

    His forward foot speed is excellent, ranking him at #6 in the Combine, up with the fastest guards. So he can definitely leak out on the break, and far ahead of any big men.

    The agility test ranks Zeller at #15, again up with the guards.

    Zeller measured 10 lbs lighter at the Combine and I would say he’s obviously been preparing himself to play at PF in the NBA.

    So … what do you think … does Zeller have the face of a Hornacek and the body of a Chambers?

  • Forever is2long

    Dbreezy, My reference to Shabazz had nothing to do with ESPN, I seldom use them as a source. Actually it was two different sources on Wednesday and Thursday.

  • Forever is2long

    Actually I mean Thursday and Friday.

  • DBreezy

    @Foreveris,

    Gotcha. I got so sick of listening to the ESPN guys. Fraschilla did say something about trading down when it came to Burke, which is why I thought that’s who you were talking about. I actually liked hearing Penn’s opinion though as he has a nice organization perspective on things. He’s generally not to high or low on anything. Even the Adams thing that Scott mentioned above, Penn only sarcastically agreed with the hype in the moment noting that there’s a long way to go and a lot more to look at. I would feel great if he had gotten the PBO position working with McD vs Babby.

  • DBreezy

    @Scott,

    Interesting thinking, but more power to the GM who selects Adams first or really high based off what we’ve seen at the combine. Every draft has it’s usual suspects and Adams looks like one of this year’s workout warriors. JVG is right when he says that more GM’s should be fired year in and out for their performances than coaches, who usually get the boot. Some of these GM’s fall for the same stuff, year after year after year, making the smart, simple guys who trust their scouting work look like geniuses and the actual geniuses look like deities.

  • bill.thomas

    We need to draft Deshaun Thomas. He refused to give the Spurs his cellphone number, LOL.

  • bill.thomas

    BSOTS had an article evaluating Brown’s season. At one point in the article the word “Ouch” was used almost as punctuation.

    They could have condensed the whole article to that one word, but of course “that does not sell newspapers.”

  • Scott

    @DBreezy -

    I don’t go with the herd, and I’m not normally swayed by the shrill hype of the draft mongers. I’m just trying to understand why sometimes what seems like the same sort of picks go higher or lower in different years.