Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Can P.J. Tucker still uplift a championship contender? And which one?

Where to next?
Where to next?
Image: Getty Images

P.J. Tucker’s never been a basketball player you could define solely by numbers.

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And thank God that’s the case because … damn!

He’s also evidently been disinterested this season, but how could you blame him? His (for now) Houston Rockets are on a 14-game losing streak.

The well-regarded defensive-minded swingman has more than likely played his last game with the Rockets and is no longer with the team as the two sides work toward a resolution. Tucker is looking to be traded or waived, so he can be free to sign with a contender of his choosing. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon, the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, and Miami Heat are among the teams who have discussed acquiring Tucker as of late. That indicates that there are contenders out there who think Tucker isn’t cooked, but has instead been impacted by the woeful undertaking in Houston. Former Rockets teammate DeMarcus Cousins was recently waived and will likely soon sign with a playoff-contending team.

Tucker’s only averaging 4.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 0.9 steals per game this season, which becomes 5.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per 36 minutes. His field-goal, three-point, and free-throw percentage shooting splits are 36.6 / 31.4 / 78.3. His shooting strokes would be the worst tallies of his career outside of his free-throw percentage, which isn’t but so impactful since he gets to the line less than one time per game. Some advanced metrics are also at career-worsts, including his offensive rating (99), defensive rating (112), box plus-minus (-4.8), win-shares per-48 minutes (.039), and value over replacement player / VORP (-0.7).

That said, the soon-to-be-36-year-old has toiled away on a team that wouldn’t energize a veteran of Tucker’s standing. Tucker even entered the season annoyed with the organization for not coming to terms on a new deal, and he was later offered a contract but never accepted it.

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But to Woj’s/MacMahon’s report, the Bucks, Lakers, Nets, and Rockets are interested, so let’s go through them.

Tucker’s essential skill-set has always entailed defensive versatility, rebounding, hustle, corner threes, and leadership. For Milwaukee, who has the league’s second-best net rating, a veteran who could provide all of the above, like Tucker when he’s on, would be perfect beside Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday. The Bucks currently lack depth at forward, and their off-the-bench efforts are primarily led by Bobby Portis, who has always been offensively gifted but never quite a defensive stopper. Lining Tucker up beside Porter to power the second unit would make sense, especially since the team is only in the bottom-half of points allowed. He could start in place of Brook Lopez, but that isn’t something we should expect to see instantly, if at all.

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With the Lakers, whose depth comes and goes, Tucker would be a welcome addition for LeBron James and the crew. The Lakers are second in points allowed and first in defensive rating, but just tied for 23rd in three-point-percentage. They also lack size on the interior, made clear by Anthony Davis’ absence. Outside of Davis, only Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell carry substantial minutes at center, and Kyle Kuzma is logging more minutes at the four in place of Davis. James could always use another corner three specialist with defensive intensity, along with a veteran leader as Tucker. The fit couldn’t be more obvious.

For the Nets, there’s always a perpetual need for defense, even though it’s possible that their historic offense could power them to a title as is. But Tucker, a long-time former teammate of James Harden, could slide in and play next to their big three of Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving with effortless simplicity. New addition Blake Griffin wouldn’t get in the way either. A team of stars like Brooklyn needs as many ‘dirty-work’ guys as possible who don’t need the ball in their hands, and Tucker’s also been through the wars, which always helps a championship contender. The Nets are first in offense, but bottom five on defense; not much else needs to be said regarding Tucker’s possible impact.

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And in Miami, the Heat have needed a three-and-D stretch-big beside Bam Adebayo all season. The team is just 26th in offense, but has improved to fifth in defense with the return of Jimmy Butler. They’ve been skating by with Kelly Olynyk, who’s actually been good next to Adebayo, at the four for most of the season, but could use Tucker in a role that will bolster both their shooting and interior defense. The Heat are just 22nd in three-point percentage and 27th in rebounding as well, and they have long been intrigued by not only Tucker, but his current teammate Victor Oladipo as well.

As far as who should get him it all comes down to what does Tucker want? The Nets and Lakers provide the best opportunities at winning a championship, but in Miami, he’d probably have the biggest impact. The safe play for Tucker is either in Los Angeles or Brooklyn, but if he wants to play more, Miami may provide the most enjoyable experience. Don’t you think Tucker would fit right into that Heat Culture?

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For Tucker, either he’s cooked, or a new team actually playing for something will rejuvenate him in some form. Soon we’ll find out.