P.J. Tucker: Suns Defensive Stopper and Trade Candidate

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P.J. Tucker has been in the headlines recently, with his name surfacing in trade rumors and Jared Dudley tweeting about his lockdown defense.

Tucker is in the final year of his $5.3 million yearly contract, and has drawn trade interest from the Clippers, Bulls, Cavaliers, Timberwolves and Hawks as first reported by Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. The Clippers offered a future second-round draft pick for Tucker, according to ESPN.

The Timberwolves offered Shabazz Muhammad for Tucker, a league source told Basketball Insiders. Muhammad is set to enter restricted free agency this summer with a $4.2 million qualifying offer.

Tucker has seen his name floated around in several trade scenarios but remains focused on the nightly task at hand.

“I’ve got to keep playing for my team,” Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “I’m a Phoenix Sun right now. This is the last year of my contract, but as of now, I’m a Phoenix Sun. So I’m going to keep playing until somebody tells me otherwise. In this league, it’s part of the business, especially coming up in a contract year. So for me, it’s just staying focused and being ready to play every night.”

Despite blocking out trade talk, which he can’t control, Tucker did mention some factors he’d take into consideration when making his free agency decision this summer.

“Just somewhere that fits me,” Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “Phoenix has been great to me. I’ve been here five years. It’s been a great five years, somewhere I would love to be for a long time. So places like this, where I just fit and they understand me and let me be myself. It’s a big factor for me.”

Despite trade talks surfacing, Tucker has remained one of the league’s best on-the-ball defenders. Dudley has campaigned for Tucker to become an All-Defensive Team member this season on Twitter.

Against the Clippers, one of the teams with interest in trading for him, Tucker recorded his second double-double of the season on Wednesday with 10 points and 14 rebounds. It also marked a season-high fourth straight game where Tucker has scored in double figures.

What makes Tucker one of the best defenders in the league?

“The thing about defense is there’s no perfect technique,” Suns coach Earl Watson replied before facing the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. “It’s all on intensity, passion, toughness and a lot of heart. He plays with that every time he touches the court. He’s one of our best players. To me, he’s the most underrated defender in our league, especially on isolations. I think our isolation defense kind of speaks for itself because of him.”

That night, Tucker was chest to chest with Carmelo Anthony and even drew a few defensive assignments against 7-foot-3 forward Kristaps Porzingis – including one possession where he stripped the ball from the towering Latvian while guarding him on the block. Tucker scored 15 points in the victory.

Tucker and the Suns held DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, DeMarre Carroll and Terrence Ross to a combined 31 percent shooting (17-55) in the following game. Tucker finished with a double-double scoring 11 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the victory.

After those consecutive wins for the Suns, Dudley tweeted another public service announcement to all media members.

“When you get to this level, pretty much everybody can score,” Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “To be able to guard somebody, the top scorers in the league, you’re not going to be able to completely shut people down but to make it tough, to be able to make them take a lot more shots to be able to get their numbers could definitely help get extra possessions. There are not a lot of people that enjoy and specialize in that, so I take pride in that.”

Tucker’s versatility to guard every position on any play or a defensive switch off opposing pick-and-roll sets makes him valuable.

While he may not be one of the “sexy” names on the trade market, Tucker’s hounding defense and versatility are what teams desire and why he’ll remain in the headlines with three weeks to go before the NBA’s trade deadline on February 23 at 3:00 p.m. EST.

For more coverage on the Phoenix Suns check out Devin Booker’s interview with Basketball Insiders on his individual growth, the team’s young core and bright future.