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Apr 6, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker (on ground) celebrates with teammates Goran Dragic (1) and Gerald Green (14) after being fouled in the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Thunder 122-115. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NBA free agency: P.J. Tucker signs 3-year deal with Suns

It was less than five months ago when Suns coach Jeff Hornacek openly feared another team scooping up forward P.J. Tucker in free agency. As of Thursday, Hornacek no longer has to worry.

The Phoenix Suns agreed to re-sign their starting small forward to a three-year, $16.5 million deal that comes with a non-guaranteed amount of $3.8 million in the final year, according to the Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro.

The move averts Phoenix having to match another teams’ offers for the restricted free agent. Those offers probably came about slowly with squads waiting on the domino effect of LeBron James’ signing. It helped that teams were unwilling to hand out mid-level exceptions before making more expensive moves; they were also not ready to have Tucker’s offer sheet holding them up for the three days before Phoenix could have matched. The Suns handed Tucker a deal similar in size to the mid-level exception, and that was probably what they would have had to do in the long run if they attempted to wait out, then match deals for Tucker.

The Suns’ vocal leader averaged 9.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season while becoming the team’s go-to perimeter defender.

Though he improved his three-point shot to hit better than 38 percent thanks to Hornacek’s system setting him up in the corners, Tucker has never been and probably will never be an analytical savant. His defensive statistics rank poorly because he took on the best scorers in the league every night, and his over-dribbling and offensive decision-making has been questionable at times.

But the Suns fully realized it’s worth paying their locker room leader — in this market, it’s hardly overpaying.

When Tucker first signed on with the Suns following a five-year hiatus from the NBA, he promised he had grown up overseas. Former general manager Lance Blanks’ most successful pet project probably hasn’t disappointed a single team personnel member.

“I’ve been all around the world playing,” Tucker said in August of 2011. “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.”

When former assistant Dan Majerle sung Tucker’s praises during and after the forward’s first Summer League with the team, it should have been taken as a hint the partially-guaranteed contract Tucker signed would be played out. When Alvin Gentry moved Tucker into the starting lineup in place of Michael Beasley, and when Gentry’s replacement, Lindsey Hunter, said most every day he would go to battle with Tucker, it was clear enough. That Jeff Hornacek echoed that with worries the Suns would lose Tucker after the season wasn’t surprising.

With this signing, it’s clear general manager Ryan McDonough sees the value in Tucker’s leadership as well.

Take this into account: the Golden State Warriors paid Shaun Livingston, a player who was on the other coast a season ago, nearly the same deal at three years and $16 million. The Pistons signed shooter Jodie Meeks to a three-year deal worth $19 million. The Orlando Magic signed on guard Ben Gordon for about a million less than Tucker per season. And the Indiana Pacers added depth to their perimeter rotation by inking C.J. Miles to a three-year, $18 million deal.

That’s the market these days. For Phoenix to bring back its leader, it’s not surprising.

Thomas and Suns will meet again, Morrow a target

David Aldridge has a few Suns-related notes on what’s quickly become a busy day of free agency.

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