"I'm nervous but excited at the same time," Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker said in April as the season ended. "This is the most important time in my career. I kind of took a pay cut to come so this is my one chance."
After flaming out of the NBA his first time around, Tucker spent six years in Europe leading two different teams to league titles and winning the MVP. In Europe, they not only pay your salary but generally also your living expenses and a car.
editor's note: If you're into 2012 nostalgia, read the comments on that Tucker story linked here. Wow.
Since coming to the Suns as an unheralded summer league participant in 2012 and then invited as an extra body to training camp, Tucker started most of the games in 2012-13 and all 81 he played in 2013-14. Tucker is not an offensive machine (9.5 points per game). He'd rather to do everything else to help his team win - defend, hustle, rebound, grab steals and generally piss off the opponent's best offensive wing player. And now he can make the corner three-point shot, which is key to stay in a lineup.
Tucker is now a restricted free agent after playing for two years on less than $1 million a year. The average NBA contract, overall, is nearly $6 million while the average salary for a starter is much higher than that.
He has said that he wants to stay in Phoenix, but that all depends on who offers what.
"I love Phoenix, and I hope to be back in Phoenix," he said to Burns and Gambo on KTAR yesterday. "I love everybody in the organization -- top to bottom. But it's a business and different things can happen, so we'll see what happens in the next couple weeks."
Does any other team covet P.J. Tucker more than Suns fans? Or should I say, most Suns fans. Some Suns fans can't wait to get rid of P.J. because they want a better player in there. To be sure, there are at least 20 small forwards in the NBA right now who can put up better overall numbers than P.J. Tucker and more coming.
So maybe Tucker won't get any offers?
Tucker has already heard, through the grapevine, that Memphis will come calling. He said as much to KTAR yesterday.
Fans of the New Orleans Pelicans covet P.J. as well.
PJ Tucker (3 Years and $16 million)
PJ Tucker is the dream acquisition for the Pelicans this summer. Start putting up boxes for what attributes this team needs from its small forward and he checks them all off. Defense - check. Rebounding - check. Corner three-point shooting - check. Toughness, leadership, and determination - check, check, and check. Quite honestly, if you were to try to create the perfect player to put next to this core, he would look a lot like PJ Tucker.
No two players are alike, but if there is one guy in this league that can be what Bowen was for the Spurs, it is PJ Tucker. He makes his living on the defensive end and has now added a corner three to his repetoire so that he doesn't hurt his team on the other end.
The Wizards could use a P.J. Tucker as well, if they lose the more expensive (and older) Trevor Ariza in free agency.
If the Wizards were to lose Ariza in free agency...they'd be smart to put on a full-court press to lure Tucker who would come cheaper but expects a hefty raise. The ceiling for him appears to be much higher than what he has shown up to this point.
But ultimately, Tucker wants to remain a Phoenix Sun. It might take an offer sheet to get that big raise, as the Suns would prefer not to outbid themselves for Tucker's services.
"I'm restricted, so regardless of what happens, Phoenix gets a chance to match," Tucker said to KTAR. "So the more suitors, the more chances you have to make more money, maybe."
Tucker knows the dangers - that the Suns won't match after all, and he's got to move on. But no one is counting on that. The Suns have said numerous times in the past few months that they want to keep Tucker.
Tucker himself has said he wants to stay. He loves the valley. He stayed in Phoenix all last summer, even modeling the new unis and saying he loved the orange ones before anyone else did.
And yesterday, Tucker donated $9,000 and hosted a basketball clinic for 50 Valley youth during a visit to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix, IG Homes branch.
Tucker wants to be at summer league as long as the contract is worked out by then. But summer league starts on July 10, the day before the moratorium lifts and Tucker can sign that RFA offer, which the Suns will have three days to match.
This could get messy, but in the end I think Tucker stays in orange and purple.
"Of course, I want to retire a Sun."
--Tucker to Coro in April