For veteran athletes, surgical procedures can often spell trouble. So on September 15, when it was announced that Phoenix Suns’ 31 -year-old P.J. Tucker would miss six to eight weeks, it was reasonable to worry about the health of the longtime Sun.
According to the University of Southern California Spine Center, however, a microdiscectomy is among the most common procedures performed by spine surgeons. Further, while back injuries might typically spell trouble for NBA players, Tucker has always had the sort of ground-bound game that relies little on athleticism and more on physicality and savvy.
Fortunately, a successful procedure seems to have begotten a worriless recovery, with P.J. all smiles during Monday’s Media Day, saying “if you ask me, I’m ready to play today”. He even went so far as to say he saw three or four weeks as an optimistic timeline. Not so fast; heal well, Mr. Tucker.
And while he’s at it, the guys below him on the depth chart would do well to take advantage of what has become a fortuitous situation. Nearly every offseason question about this team has centered around why the Suns have chosen to overload their roster with overlapping youngsters, and whether or not their minutes and roles could be efficiently juggled.
Now, with Tucker presumably out for all of training camp and the first few regular season games (a 6-week recovery would bring him back somewhere around a home tilt against the Warriors on October 30th), players like Dragan Bender and T.J. Warren have the chance to place themselves above their peers on a team that could use a hierarchy.
When he returns, though, he’ll provide a steadying hand for a team that will sorely miss his enforcing ways while he’s gone. The Suns have set themselves up for a season in which the veterans have to be on the court for the team to be competitive; there is no middle ground between inexperienced and grizzled. You’re not winning too many games without guys like Jared Dudley, Tucker, or Tyson Chandler on the court.
Tucker’s age and contract are also factors here because of the hole they might soon represent. While his September absence might not impact the Suns’ 2016-17 record or rotation, the lessons that the coaching staff learns during the coming weeks about how this roster can and should work together will be valuable going forward. While this injury doesn’t seem like it will dramatically affect the team in the short-term, getting an idea of what works within the confines of these players’ skillsets is vital for the future of the team.
With so little to lose and such high upside in so many of the Suns’ youngsters, there’s no better time than now to tinker and observe. But development is only valuable when lessons are actually being learned from the experience on the court. This team was built in preparation for situations like these; injuries happen to every team, and there are options in Phoenix to plug holes in the interim. Tucker said it best on Monday: “I’m always confident in my team”.