Free agency threatens P.J. Tucker's future in purple


Tucker_1PHOENIX – When the Suns lost to the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 4, forward P.J. Tucker seemed to take it personally. One of the last Phoenix players to leave the locker room as the media members worked to make their deadlines, he looked more perturbed than normal after a loss – and Tucker is usually quite visibly bothered by losing.

Tucker showed an added pep to his stingy defense in the next game against the Houston Rockets and the Phoenix forward has played with a heightened urgency in the five games since. He’s averaged 13.2 points, 10 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game during that span.

Jeff Hornacek wants to keep word of Tucker’s impact silenced.

“Shhhhh,” he whispered following Tucker’s 10-point, 11-rebound, six-assist performance in a Wednesday win against the Boston Celtics. “I don’t want anybody to go after him when he’s a free agent.”

It’s wishful thinking.

Inevitably, teams will come after Tucker and hard when his minimum contract comes to an end after the 2013-14 season. He’s likely going to garner more than the $1.1 million qualifying offer that the Suns can extend his way. His greatly-improved offensive game could make him an ideal mid-level exception signee for a winning team, something like Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen signing a four-year, $20 million contract extension this past summer.

Salary-strapped squads like Miami, Brooklyn, Chicago or the Los Angeles Clippers would love to add Tucker as a lockdown defender and corner-pocket specialist on offense.

Tucker is no longer the guy that even smart NBA fans saw as the random piece in Phoenix’s starting lineup. The NBA front office knows him as well, having handed the forward a flopping warning and then a $5,000 flopping fine in consecutive games against Miami and Denver.

The good news is that when July hits, the most-important piece after Eric Bledsoe’s restricted free agency plays out will have the Suns’ ears.

Likewise, they’ll have his.

General manager Ryan McDonough told Suns.com’s Greg Esposito that in attempting to relay the bad news about Tucker’s flopping fine on Wednesday, he found out just how much Phoenix’s starting small forward wants to stay in Phoenix.

“I called P.J. and went to voicemail and didn’t leave a message,” McDonough said after the trade deadline passed. “P.J. Called me back … And I noticed P.J. was a little short of breath, breathing a little heavy. The light went on in my head. I said, ‘P.J., we’re not trading you. That’s not what this call’s about.’ Then he said, ‘Ah, thank goodness, man. I love it here. I was so nervous.’

“I don’t think anybody’s been happier to be fined.”

Call the dip into to Tucker’s checkbook his public entrance into the league as a pesky, annoying presence who really does symbolize the Suns’ underdog mentality. After all, Tucker’s so-called flops – he’s not buying it – did earn fouls on LeBron James and Kenneth Faried.

After clearing up the call with McDonough, Tucker played a large role in turning a lackluster second-half start around, even if he did pick up late fouls to give the Celtics life. Tucker also nearly picked up a technical for arguing his sixth foul.

It was that fire that Phoenix covets more than the numbers, but those were nice, too.

“He was making fun in the locker room, he got six fouls because he’s not getting fined again for flopping,” said point guard Goran Dragic. “So from now on, he’s going to foul the guy.”

The little-known Lance Blanks reclamation project joined the Suns after impressing then-Summer League head coach Dan Majerle two summers ago. Majerle said at the time that Tucker, who seems set on earning his second Dan Majerle Hustle Award this year, was after his heart. On a team floundering at the end of the Blanks era, he and Dragic were the two constants, the two who clearly weren’t quitting despite the losses adding up.

Tucker surprised by volunteering with the Morris twins to play for Hornacek in the 2013 Summer League, and that’s where the grit and identity of the Suns began to be built.

Now, with Phoenix being chased by a number of teams to cling to a playoff spot, Tucker sees himself as the motor that needs to produce.

“I feel like I gotta make plays, easy plays, assists, taking shots I need to take, and definitely be on the boards,” Tucker said. “Now, I’m just trying to take it to another level in the second half of the season. We’ve got to.”

And after whatever this season brings for the Suns, it’ll be on McDonough to gauge Tucker’s value and attempt to keep him in purple and orange. Like it was when Phoenix and Blanks signed the forward despite his Summer League averages of 5.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, Tucker’s statistics won’t do his impact justice.

  • EBJM

    I seriously doubt any team is going to offer Tucker more than what Babby is willing to pay him. Can you imagine the Spurs without Bruce Bowen? In this case Tucker is closer to Dennis Rodman. Actually kind of a combination of the two.

    The flopping calls are ridiculous. He isn’t anywhere near Divac or Ginobilli. Faried can’t shoot so you play him for the drive and James is 275# of pure nastiness and I don’t think any player can take a shoulder to the chest from him and not lose ground.

    Sure, you still have to sell the charge if you are Tucker but maybe not so much anymore. RESPECT. I think Tucker has earned it this season.

    Letting him walk away would be similar to trading Majerle for “Hot Rod”. Please don’t do that again. He would be a dynamic bench player for Phoenix after they pick it up a notch.

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  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    The Suns must keep Tucker as part of the hope of winning a championship within the next couple of years.

    He is the Bruce Bowen of the Suns.

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    EBJM -

    You beat me to it. I have always thought of Tucker as a Bruce Bowen clone!

  • DZ

    Their are a lot of fans – myself included – that would be very upset to loose PJ in any way. And I think McD understands how important it is to have a guy like PJ on the team and won’t let him go unless some other team makes him an absolutely crazy contract offer.

  • Smovich

    IMO, the flopping call was correct if the flop that they were showing on the Suns broadcast was the one he was fined for. Someone put a hand in his back and Tucker threw himself out of bounds and against the padded pole.

    I know what people are saying when they call Tucker a Bruce Bowen, but I hate that comparison because Bowen intentionally would try to hurt players and I just don’t look at Tucker as a dirty player.

  • http://ultimatesimbaseball.com Brenton

    4 years $20M for Tucker is a little absurd, but he definitely deserves a raise.

    Id go with something like 2 years, $8M. 3 and D guys who play hard are not exactly a rare commodity in the NBA. Dont overpay role players.

  • http://ultimatesimbaseball.com Brenton

    Suns should have pulled an OKC(not sure if they still can) and sign him to an extension with a huge boost in pay this year when they have the cap room, and then a modest salary for the future. They have ~$6M in cap space, so sign him to an extension that pays him $6.8M in year one, and then $1.5M a year for the next 3 years. Or something like that.

  • EBJM

    Smovich great observation! He is much more like
    Rodman, just loves to live in your jersey and drive you crazy without being dirty.

  • NOitall

    all of this completely depends upon moves we make this summer. If we acquire someone like Aaron Afllalo [not that I am saying we would], but Tucker would be expendable. Or if we acquired Melo or an Alpha small forward, you aren’t keeping tucker because of salary. All depends…

  • DZ

    Tucker – 9.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg, .398 3p%.

    Allen – 10.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 spg, .185 3p%.

    These are the stats for Tucker and Allen this season. Allen’s stats are all above his career averages except for 3p%.

    If you want to argue that Allen is being overpaid as a reason why Tucker doesn’t deserve roughly the same pay, fine.

    PJ has also only missed 3 games since the Suns signed him, all last season, and he wants to stay in Phoenix.

    Again I say that the Suns should hang on to him unless some other team makes him an absolutely crazy contract offer.

  • sunsn7

    Tucker brings that semblance of toughness that the Suns often lack and his swag, along that of Green, often sets the tone for the rest of the team. Suns will hold onto him so long as his asking price is reasonable, one would think.

  • Foreveris2long

    PJ is setting himself up for a nice payday and one that is well deserved. I would love to see him stay in Phoenix if at all possible.

  • Scott

    I like what Tucker does, but I think the Suns need to add higher quality on the wing.

    I see Tucker the way I see Frye (and, in previous years, Dudley): a sentimental favorite who is skilled, but maybe not quite a starter for a contending team.

    If the Suns had an elite starting wing and Tucker was the guy coming off the bench, that would be an ideal scenario.

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    In a poll conducted in 1997 among 29 players, coaches and executives, Dennis Rodman was voted the dirtiest player in the NBA.

    Neither Rodman or Bowen would be considered as Girl Scouts.

  • EBJM

    Lloyd, that same poll named John Stockton the 2nd dirtiest player right behind Rodman. Ironically Rodman had this thing about head-butting certain other players and Stockton was one of them.

    If Karl Malone never felt the need to punch Rodman then I still don’t view him as dirty. Rodman used to drive Malone crazy with his in your jersey style of defense.

    Karl Malone himself wasn’t a saint. Against former Sun center Joe Klein at the rim for a lay-up, Klein stood between Malone and the rim and had his nose broke for his troubles. Malone said afterwards, Joe had his nose someplace it didn’t belong!

    Malone also knocked out David Robinson. In Steve Nash’s final year in Dallas he tried to steal a rebound from Malone who promptly sent him sprawling with an elbow to his face which is why Steve is so ugly today. Knocked out a front tooth and bloodied his face.

    The best incident involving one of Malone’s elbow was when Isiah Thomas was upset that John Stockton was named to the original Dream Team and Thomas felt Stockton “stole” his spot.

    The next time they met in Utah Thomas lit up Stockton for 40 points. Malone the loyal and consummate teammate didn’t appreciate an opponent embarrassing his best friend. So the next game they played Malone went for a rebound right through Thomas’s face.

    It took forty stiches to close the gash over his left eye and he had to be carried off the court. He was sidelined two weeks after absorbing Malone’s wrath.

    Nice clean basketball plays.

    I consider Danny Fortson to be a dirty player, not Rodman. Reggie Evans is the winner of the dirtiest player today. Usually it is the thug without skills.

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    EBJM -

    I compare Tucker to Bowen because they are great defenders, good three point shooters and give all that they have every game.

    All coaches would have loved Bowen as part of their rotations.

    Danny Ainge was also tough as nails. These are players that you love when they are on your team but hate when on the other team.

    The Suns must keep Tucker!

  • ellensburgbballfan

    Not for 20 million

    We have a need on this team for an elite wing and we have a lot of draft picks in a draft that is overflowing with talent at the 3 position

    Time for the Suns to do their homework

    If tucker wanted a multi year deal, say 12 million over 4 years as a backup to a future stud at the 3 then fine but not 20 mil no way

    You don’t overpay role players that’s how you get a team that’s bare!y missed the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years

  • EBJM

    Lloyd those were the reasons I made the same comparisons until Smovich made a great point. Bowen intentionally slid his foot under other players feet when they came down causing knee and ankle injuries.

    Rodman simply knew how to foul without getting caught, like Stockton and Malone. Tucker’s skills are really a combination of the two but he has a huge heart and would never intentionally try and hurt a player.

    True “dirty” players like Fortson simply throw you into the 3rd row, see Carbakapa.

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