Phoenix Suns third year guard Alando Tucker had his fourth year option declined by the team making him a free agent at the end of this season. (Photo by Max Simbron)
In these economic hard times we all probably know some who's been laid off. I've had to let quite a few people go over the last year and it is never easy. These decisions come down to a lot of things but in both business and basketball the bottom line is value.
It is not always about how much potential you have but how much the organization is able to utilize your talents and abilities right now - especially when resources are limited. You might be a great graphic designer but if there are two others better than you who the organization has more invested in then you could be out regardless of what you can do.
It's a numbers game and that's exactly what happened to third year Suns guard Alando Tucker this week when the team announced that it would not be picking up his fourth year option. Tucker now becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.
Tucker I suspect, is the last person in the world who wants anyone to feel sorry for him. He's made a lot of money and he's enjoyed his time as a Sun. Listening to him talk it is clear that he's already looking beyond his time here in Phoenix, "I love all my teammates so it will be tough in that aspect but at the same time I just have to keep getting myself better."
Tucker came into the league in 2007 as the Big Ten Player of the Year and a First Team All-American but he played the power forward for Wisconsin and is continuing to learn the guard position at the NBA level.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry said he still has progress to be made guarding players on the perimeter and getting his outside shot to be more consistent. Despite those shortcomings, Gentry speaks highly of Tucker, "His work ethic is great, no one has ever complained about that. He's just a victim of being at a position where we're loaded."
Playing behind first Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa and now Jason Richardson Tucker feels he's never gotten the opportunity to get the consistent playing time he needs to prove that he can play at the NBA level. He said it's been a mixed blessing playing in Phoenix with such great guys but his career has clearly suffered by not having more opportunity.
Alando doesn't doubt that given the chance he can be a solid NBA player, "For sure. My goal is definitely to stay in the league. That's my whole goal."
Tucker has already talked to his agent about getting work outs with teams in the coming off-season or perhaps thinking about trade opportunities to team that could use him immediately in their rotation.
For the Suns he does now have some limited value as an expiring contract. Consider a deal like this where he could be sent to Minnesota for center Oleksiy Pecherov who is under contract for next season. The Wolves are deep up front but rely on injury-prone Sasah Pavolic and rookie Wayne Ellington to play the off-guard.
At any point this season if a team has an injury to a shooting guard who is rotation player they could look at trading for Tucker knowing that they would only have to pay him for the remainder of this season. The Suns wouldn't be able to get much back but you never know.
Tucker's not thinking much about all that. Asked how he's dealing with being in a kind of NBA limbo he displayed the great attitude that's made him appreciated by Suns fans despite his limited on-court contributions, "Never stop working. Never complain. I'm working out after the games, I'm staying here extra hours so I try and get back in here at night and work on my game after practice."
That's not to say that Alando isn't a little bitter about the situation either, "Pretty much in a sense we are all puppets. We can be shoved, pushed here. You have to be ready for it. You never know. You have super stars that get pushed and traded all the time."
The reality is that a big part of this is financial. The Suns are paying Richardson and Barbosa a combined $20m this season while Tucker is making $1.8m on his rookie scale contract. This fact is not lost on Alando, "It's just so hard here because you've got guys, and you've got money situations. You've got J Rich, these guys have to play. They're getting paid to play."
It's not that Alando thinks he deserves to be getting minutes over Richardson or Barbosa but he is human and clearly this situation is painful for him. He feels that he should be playing in the NBA and he's frustrated that he's not had that chance. It's like being frustrated when the weather messes up your plans; it can be maddening but there's little you can do.
Instead of dwelling on the situation, Tucker is focused on what he can control, "It's a long season, you never know. I'm trying to get better every practice, every day and you never know what happens toward the end of the season."