Reports came out on Monday that P.J. Tucker will opt out of his player option for next season with the Miami Heat and will enter free agency this summer.
Miami’s PJ Tucker will opt out of his $7.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season and enter free agency, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. Several championship contending teams are expected to compete for Tucker, who was a key part of Milwaukee’s title run in 2021.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 20, 2022
The 37-year-old journeyman will be entering his 12th season in the NBA next season and is going to be on the top of every contender’s shopping list this summer. With his defensive capabilities, positional versatility, and respectable shooting range, it’s no wonder the top teams will be looking to bring him in.
But above all of those qualities, Tucker’s most valuable quality is his mental game. His basketball IQ on both ends of the court is phenomenal. Tucker is the textbook definition of a human with the heart of a lion, which he emphatically wears on his sleeve every day. And after grinding for years in the playoffs with the James Harden-led Houston Rockets, Tucker finally got that championship ring in 2021 with the Milwaukee Bucks.
As many Suns fans will remember, Tucker’s influence was not seen too much on the offensive end outside of the seldom corner three. He failed to register double-digit points for the entirety of the Finals against Phoenix, as well as the entirety of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks.
But again, Suns fans should remember that Tucker’s presence on and off the court was contagious. This is not to take away from the dominant defensive force that is Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks roster, which is littered with defenders ranging from positive to elite.
However, the uniqueness of Tucker’s mental strength and intelligence, his basketball skill set, and his physical capabilities, makes Tucker a true one-of-a-kind player that can have a profound effect on a team.
And the team that may need Tucker the most is the one where his return to the NBA first began.
Long ago, in the yesteryear of 2006, Tucker was the 35th overall pick by the Toronto Raptors. Tucker logged less than 100 minutes in his rookie year and subsequently left the U.S. to play basketball internationally.
Over the next five years, Tucker played in Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy, and Germany, winning an MVP award in Israel and winning two different Finals MVP awards, one from Israel and the other from Germany after winning the championship in those respective countries.
In the summer of 2012, Tucker had actually planned on heading to Russia to play with Spartak St. Petersburg before opting to play for the Phoenix Suns’ Summer League team. The rest is history from there, as Tucker would eventually sign with Phoenix and become a valuable member of the team over the next four and a half seasons. With his aforementioned heart and hustle, Tucker became a fan favorite in the Valley and won the Dan Majerle Hustle award in each of his four full seasons with Phoenix.
Much has changed about the Suns in the time since Tucker was traded to Toronto at the 2017 trade deadline. Devin Booker is the only remaining Sun that Tucker would be seeing if he were to return, but Tucker would have another familiar face in Chris Paul.
Their relationship goes back to their childhood in North Carolina, as the two played on the same AAU team growing up. It kind of goes back even further, as they were born one day apart from each other. The two would go their separate ways for college, with Tucker going to Texas and Paul going to Wake Forest.
But as fate would have it, their paths would cross once again in Houston a decade later, when Paul was traded to the Rockets in the summer of 2017. The North Carolina natives spent two years together in Houston before Paul was traded to Oklahoma City in the summer of 2019.
So yes, a return to Phoenix for Tucker would be quite the storybook finish to an amazing career for both Tucker and Paul. But the final chapter of this storybook can only be completed by winning the title next season. And with the total package that Tucker provides on and off the court, he could be the final puzzle piece to unlocking the Suns’ full potential.