Third-year pro P.J. Tucker poised to handle his 'veteran' status


P.J. Tucker has been a lot of things during his basketball career: a Big 12 Player of the Year, an NBA wash out, an international success story, a spark plug and a defensive bull dog.

In 2013-14, he’ll add another title to his long-winded resume.

Elder statesman.

Outside of Channing Frye (30) and Marcin Gortat (29), the 28-year-old is considered one of the veteran leaders on a team that might be more green than purple, orange or black.

The concept is somewhat ironic given Tucker’s status exactly a year ago.

After being waived by the Toronto Raptors in 2007, the former second-round pick bounced around the globe gaining experience on courts in Puerto Rico, Greece, Israel and Germany.  The former Texas standout came back to the United States in 2012 and played for the Suns’ Summer League team in Las Vegas. He was so impressive that general manager Lance Blanks offered him a two-year deal — one of the only positive signings from his short-lived tenure.

It wasn’t a done deal that he would make the team coming out of training camp or an absolute that he’d crack Alvin Gentry’s rotation, but Tucker became an instant fan favorite after his 10-point effort off the bench on Opening Night almost single-handedly led the Suns to a victory over the Golden State Warriors. Phoenix, of course, lost that night, but the performance proved to be far from an aberration.

Last season, Tucker played in 79 of 82 games, making starts in 45 of those appearances. His stats (6.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.8 steals per game) don’t exactly jump off the page, but they fail to really capture who he is as a basketball player

Look up toughness in any basketball dictionary and there’s likely a picture of Tucker guarding any number of the league’s top players, from Kobe Bryant to LeBron James to Kevin Durant and even Chris Paul.

He’s fearless personified and a third-year player who just so happens to have the type of instincts head coach Jeff Hornacek desperately needs in a game changer at the defensive end.

On most teams, Tucker would be just a nice piece to throw in off the bench for about 10 to 15 minutes. On a Suns’ squad fully in the midst of a rebuilding project, he is far more than that.

Based on preseason lineup trends, the 6-foot-6 swingman will likely begin the year the same way he finished last year: as a starter.

Six-year pro Gerald Green has shown flashes during Phoenix’s slate of exhibition contests, but the small forward position appears to be Tucker’s to lose at this point heading into the team’s season opener against the Portland Trail Blazers on Oct. 30.

Tucker won’t give Hornacek and Co. the type of sheer athleticism or playmaking ability that Green can provide, and he’s not as confident in his shot as Marcus Morris — who will also challenge for minutes at small forward this season — is. However, for a team that lacked any semblance of a defensive identity just a season ago, he’s the perfect fit to get the nod.

“I think he really helps set the tone for our guys in terms of intensity defensive-wise,” Hornacek told Arizona Sports 620’s Craig Grialou. “He’s a great defender. He gets after guys. He’s physical. When guys see him out there, especially for the young guys coming in, they all kind of buy into that.”

There are plenty of limitations to Tucker’s skill set, but he is not short on the intangibles. If the Suns were a playoff contender, those intangibles would make for a good bench conductor. But the Suns are not that team. They are youthful. They are a collection of unknown parts. They are in need of guidance from a player who can command respect from every teammate simply by the way he conducts himself on and off the court.

The reigning Dan Majerle Hustle Award winner appears to that description.

This summer, as the Morris Twins were working on their craft, as Archie Goodwin was getting his feet wet, as Dionte Christmas was trying to make a lasting impression, there was Tucker right by their side in Las Vegas for a second consecutive year.

“He was asking about it,” said Hornacek. “He was going to be in Vegas working out anyway. I said, ‘Well, if you’re going to be in Vegas working out anyway, why don’t you just play? Get those reps in with our guys and you’ll see what we do. We’ll put a little of our stuff in now. It’ll be a good starting point.’ He was like, ‘Okay, Coach, I’ll do it.’”

From the looks of it, at least, being an elder statesman will suit P.J. Tucker just fine. Consider it another chapter on what’s already been a wild ride of a basketball career.

  • Ty-Sun

    Tucker quickly became my favorite Suns player last season. The guy gives everything he’s got for every second he’s on the court. He’s fearless on defense and just plays smart B-ball. If Horny can just teach him how to consistently hit threes…

  • http://none Keith

    Agreed. Love Tucker and I do think he will start, at least to begin the year. A lot of people are saying Mook cause he can shoot 3s, but I think Tucker starts the year. He may go with Gortat, though.

  • azbballfan

    Yeah tucker may not be the long term answer at the 3, but thats ok

    him and gortat and brown can all be included in some future trade

    Detroit is rumored to be shopping greg monroe and they obviously want to make the playoffs this year

    sounds like a great trade partner to me

  • Luka

    Detroit is in win now mode. I’d be surprised if they dealt us Monroe.

  • EBJM

    I have no idea why Pistons would even consider trading Monroe. That would be simply crazy. But the rumor is out there BUT the two names I’ve heard is LaMarcus Aldridge or Rajon Rondo. With Drmmond, Gortat would be a back-up and would not extend. Suns simply do not have the assets to obtain Monroe eho has already established himself as becoming an elite PF in the league and along with Drummond and Josh Smith have one of the premier frontlines in the league.

    Just goes to show you how a blown lottery pick can really screw you. Pistons selected PG Brandon Knight @ #8 and already traded him. But in their defense that was an extremely weak draft. But they could have went with Klay Thompson and tried to re-sign Calderon or went after Collison this summer who signed with the Clippers for less than $2 mllion to back Chris Paul again.

  • EBJM

    All Tucker needs is a three-point shot and he would be Dan Majerle 2.0

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    Tucker should start….I consider him the most dependable Sun, even more so than Goran.

    re Gortat:
    Yes, I’m aware that there is only a snowball’s chance in hell of Gortat staying with the Suns past this season & most likely sooner than that…..but it is my nature to question things that everyone assumes to be automatically true….even in the face of DBreezy’s overwhelming facts & figures.

    While I’m no big Gortat fan, he still probably has 5 good years left in him & from what I saw of Len in college, I’m a long ways from being convinced he is the answer at Center.
    Getting rid of all your good veteran players to draft a hot-shot teenager is a dangerous business.

  • EBJM

    Not only that Hawki, the Suns just have never faired well in the draft in regards to centers and PFs.
    Remember William Bedford @ #5? How about Armon “The original Hammer” Gilliam @ #2. Someone closer to Len, big Jake Tsakilidis, who unlike Len came with a solid NBA body but simply did not fit in with the historically quick and uptempo Suns. As of today Len is Andrea Bargnani but without the skills. Kravtsov just hit his prime so he either shows something or he might as well head back to the Ukraine.

    We can all hope that the Wolves make the playoff then we can use their pick on Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein. Then in 2015 we can take Kansas center Joel Embiid. By 2016 Len will be out of the league with chronic ankle issues. To think we could of had Ben McLemore!

  • Mel.

    Tuck consistently got the second-loudest ovations to Dragon during the game against the Clips; I knew the guy was popular with the home crowd, but not THAT popular.

  • Luka

    Jake “Butterfingers” Tsakalidis. I don’t think Len will be quite that bad.

  • EBJM

    Jake had one thing going for him, he weighed 285# and his ankles and knees didn’t fail him like Alex Len, Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum.

  • EBJM

    I just figured out why Greg Monroe might be available. Pistons are paying Smith $14 million wnd Brandon Jennings $8 million and don’t believe they can afford both Monroe and Drummond and prefer to pay .Drummond. So Monroe will become a restricted F/A this summer. Phoenix will be $30 million under the cap this summer so should throw a $14 offer at Monroe and see if Detroit will match. That leaves them $16 million, plenty to offer Bledsoe who they should extend now.

    Then the following summer they drop around $17 million when Frye, Beasley, & Green come off the books. The options on the twins & Marshall could be declined to save another $8 million. Suns could be great again in two or three years.

    Now if could only get rid of Sarver.

  • Scott

    I really don’t know much about Monroe. My understanding is that he’s played a fair bit at C for Detroit, and maybe it’s not clear that he can play well at PF.

    Scouting says he’s a high IQ guy, which I like, but he has low athleticism and is not explosive. His game has been described as being “old school.” He may need to be close to the basket for his offense, which would probably negate efforts to spread the floor.

    I’m not entirely sure how Monroe would fit on the Suns, but he would have the highest PER on the team at 19.52.