Posts Tagged ‘P.J. Tucker’

OKC shopping should start with Carter

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

The aging Vince Carter still has enough in his tank to put a contender over.

The aging Vince Carter has enough in his tank to give a title contender a significant boost.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the free agency clock ticks down, the spotlight is shining brightest on Miami’s Big Three, on Carmelo Anthony‘s decision and on the Lakers’ wishful pursuit of a superstar (or two).

And then there’s that little ole team on the Oklahoma prairie that no one’s talking about. The one with the league MVP, the All-Star point guard and the game’s fiercest shot blocker. The one that’s played in three Western Conference finals in the last four years and if not for key injuries in these last two postseasons might have built upon its lone NBA Finals appearance in 2012.

The one that’s missing one final piece.

Oklahoma City Thunder enter free agency, not as big spenders and not needing much, but with a silver bullet in-hand (the full mid-level exception worth $5.3 million) and a specific target: A hired gun.

Signing a veteran knock-down 3-point shooter is crucial for this franchise on the doorstep. A Big Three of sorts that specializes in the long ball is set to hit the open market at the stroke of midnight: Vince Carter, Mike Miller and Mo Williams.

The 37-year-old Carter arguably stands as the most intriguing of the three, a reformed skywalker as he beats back Father Time and now a dead-eye 3-point shooter who has been called the league’s best bargain and most underpaid player during his three seasons with Dallas.

Carter, who has hit 40 percent of his 3s in the last two seasons with Dallas, and averaged 11.9 ppg last season, has stated his desire to remain with the Mavs, and Dallas wants him back. But Carter will also be pursued by a handful of contenders and teams on the verge of contending. A league source indicated that Oklahoma City, Miami, Toronto and Portland will give Dallas competition for Carter’s services.

Any one of those three free agents would be a boon to the Thunder’s second unit and each could play a key role spacing the floor and splashing open 3s while on the floor with league MVP Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, who was headed to a fourth consecutive All-Star berth until another knee surgery forced him out just after Christmas.

The Thunder’s core — Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka — is obviously set and they rely heavily on drafting and player development to fill key roles. Reggie Jackson has emerged as a terrific reserve point guard. Shooting guard Jeremy Lamb could potentially move into the starting lineup next season. The Kendrick Perkins problem was lessened last season with the emergence of 7-foot rookie center Steven Adams.

However, the 3-point shooting issue remains. Thabo Sefolosha lost his touch from the deep all season and specifically in the postseason. The Thunder’s defensive-minded starter the last five seasons is now a free agent, and will likely move on. Veteran small forward Caron Butler, an early March addition, shot poorly in the postseason and he, too, will likely be headed elsewhere. Jackson, although an improving 3-point shooter, was still just 33.9 percent last season. And Lamb, at 35.6 percent, struggled in the season’s second half and lost his job to Butler.

OKC does believe it could find in-house help from second-year stretch-4 Grant Jerrett, a 2013 second-round draft pick, who shot 36.4 percent from deep for the Thunder’s D-League affiliate in Tulsa, Okla. But the 6-foot-10 project out of Arizona didn’t play a minute for the big club once he was signed in April.

The 6-foot-8 Miller almost signed with OKC last summer after Miami used the amnesty clause to set him free, but he ultimately returned to Memphis, which finished last in the league in 3-point attempts per game. So he might relish a chance to play with two superstars in an offense that will guarantee him more looks.

Williams, who opted out of his final year in Portland at $2.8 million, is a terrific shooter and can switch between the 1 and 2. He lacks the size of the other two, but was a big part of the Portland’s surge last season.

Other free-agent candidates include Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, P.J. Tucker, Josh McRoberts and C.J. Miles.

Here’s a look at my top three:

 

Vince Carter 

Age: 37 (Jan. 26)

2013-14 salary: $3.18 million

2013-14 stats: 81 games; 24.4 mpg; 11.9 ppg; 3.5 rpg; 2.6 apg; 40.7 FG%; 39.4 3FG%

Pros: Has adjusted his game with his age to become a knock-down 3-point shooter — and he can still get to the rim more often than expected; a solid locker-room leader for a young team that probably grew up watching him in dunk contests; and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has consistently lauded his defensive effort.

Cons: He’s prone to forcing too many contested jumpers; at some point the body is going to give out and Carter, although extremely well-conditioned, does turn 38 during the season.

 

Mike Miller

Age: 34 (Feb. 19)

2013-14 salary: $884,293 million (owed $12.8 million by Heat for 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons)

2013-14 stats: 82 games; 20.8 mpg; 7.1 ppg; 2.5 rpg; 1.6 apg; 48.1 FG%; 45.9 3FG%

Pros: Still a deadly 3-point shooter as Thunder fans can attest during the first round as they gasped in fear every time he lined up from the top of the arc; Just being on the floor would space it better than with any combination OKC put on the court last season.

Cons: He’s been susceptible to back issues, but he stayed healthy last season and played in all 82 games while still logging 20 minutes a game. He’s risky, but as just a threat to make 3s, is worth it.

 

Mo Williams

Age: 31 (Dec. 19)

2013-14 salary: $2.8 million

2013-14 stats: 74 games; 24.8 mpg; 9.7 ppg; 2.1 rpg; 4.3 apg; 41.7 FG%; 36.9 3FG%

Pros: He’s acknowledged he’s on the back portion of his career, so he knows his rightful place is coming off the bench and sparking a team with instant offense — exactly what the Thunder needs; can play the 1 and 2, and is a good passer.

Cons: His size could be a detriment since the Thunder are likely to let the 6-foot-5 Sefolosha walk in free agency and already have the 6-foot-3 Jackson likely coming off the bench. If Lamb proves he’s not ready to be a starter, OKC could prefer a two-guard with more size.

Morning shootaround — June 28




VIDEO: GameTime examines the 76ers’ selection of Joel Embiid

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Embiid could miss year | Knicks want Pau | No rush on Rondo | Suns keep rising | McDermott first step
No. 1: Sixers will take the cautious route with Embiid — Remember all those photos of last year’s No. 1 pick Nerlens Noel in street clothes in Philly. Remember how Nerlens Noel never got onto the court while recovering from his knee surgery. Sixers G.M. Sam Hinkie loudly hinted that this year’s top pick Joel Embiid might be nothing more than a spectator as well, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

General manager Sam Hinkie hinted Friday that Joel Embiid, who was drafted third overall, probably won’t play in the 2014-15 season. That’s because the 7-foot center out of Kansas will miss more time than reported while recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot.
“I’ve seen reported some four to six months,” Hinkie said. “That’s not the number I heard. The number I heard from the surgeon himself was five to eight months.
“Guess what our approach will be? We will focus on the long-term health of the player. We had that discussion before. I don’t want that to sound glib, because it’s not. It is all that matters, honestly.”

***

No. 2: Knicks want to team up Gasol with ‘Melo — While new team president Phil Jackson has been delivering some tough love to free agent Carmelo Anthony lately with talk of taking a pay cut, it seems he’s looking to add some sugar with the addition of Pau Gasol. ESPN’s Mark Stein and Ramona Shelburne say that Jackson plans to reach out to his former Lakers center when the free agency period opens at midnight ET on Tuesday:

Furthermore, one source close to the process told ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne that Jackson is planning to make a determined attempt to try to recruit his former Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol to replace the freshly traded Tyson Chandler alongside Anthony on the Knicks’ front line, despite the fact New York is limited to offering Gasol less than $4 million for next season.
Time will tell if the Knicks’ internal confidence in retaining Anthony proves justified, given that he opted out of the final year of his contract at $23.3 million — with Jackson urging him to opt in — and will soon be courted face-to-face by a handful of top teams in big cities.
The 30-year-old officially becomes an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. and, as ESPN.com reported earlier this week, is planning to go on visits or hold meetings with the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Lakers all before the Fourth of July. It also must be noted as July 1 draws near that the Bulls and Rockets have likewise been radiating no shortage of positivity about their chances of stealing Anthony away from the Knicks.

***

No. 3: Celtics are in no hurry to ship out Rondo — The name of Marcus Smart had barely crossed the lips of NBA commissioner Adam Silver on draft night when the speculation began about the end of Rajon Rondo’s time in Boston. But Steve Bulpett of the the Boston Herald believes there is no reason to start packing the veteran point guard’s bags. First the Celtics will see if they can make a big name addition — i.e. Kevin Love – over the summer to pair with Rondo before entertaining offers:

The Celtics’ first choice in all this is to keep Rondo and find better players to put around him, but if they are unable to do that, they will have to confront the issue of his impending free agency. The club went into its rebuild with last summer’s trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett knowing it had to show a clear path to again being a contender before Rondo could depart on his own in 2015.
What we know for sure is that Ainge will be entertaining some offers for Rondo this summer, but, according to sources, that may still not assure a trade. The opinion here is that the Celts will have a difficult time getting a return for Rondo commensurate with what he means to this team. But they aren’t afraid to wait it out.
Assuming again they are unable to bring in a major player to pair with Rondo, one source confirmed the Celtics would sooner let him walk away than accept a deal that bogs down their salary sheet just to “get something for him.” If they decide trading Rondo is the best course of action, they will dig in and either get what they need to enhance their rebuilding, or they will let him go and take the cap space benefit.

***

No. 4: Suns’ future continues to shine with draft moves — Every team with air in its basketballs come away claiming draft night was a success. However, our own Sekou Smith says that second-year Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough is just selling more sand in the desert after his addition of young talent. After extending qualifying offers on Friday to free agents Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker, the Suns and are in a position to improve on last season’s surprising 48 wins and make more noise in the Western Conference:

With no glaring holes on a roster that didn’t include a superstar anchor, they entered Thursday night without the pressure of filling any significant gaps or the need to wheel and deal to fix their team.
That allowed McDonough and his staff to zero in on talents that fit the Suns’ system and style to perfection. They snagged prolific-scoring ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State with the 14th pick, Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis with the 18th pick, Serbian shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic with the 27th pick and topped it off in the second round with 7-footer Alec Brown of Wisconsin Green Bay with the 50th pick overall.
“We think it was a great night for us,” McDonough told Suns.com after the Draft. “I feel like in the draft, with our four picks, we got a blend of a little bit of everything.”
“Sometimes you have to move or give up a lot, give up future picks, give up players to get exactly what you want. We didn’t have to do any of that. We just kind of stayed where we were and the guys fell to us.”
The Suns are in the rare position after a lottery season of controlling their own destiny moving forward. They extended qualifying offers Friday to both point guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward P.J. Tucker, giving them the right to match any offers to two players that played key roles in their resurgent season.
Sometimes teams have to reach and stretch to find security at certain positions, to add the needed depth and to fortify the roster. The Suns didn’t have to reach or stretch for anything. They played the board perfectly, riding the wave of the Draft with the bigger picture in mind and the security of knowing they could compete during an injury-filled season without resorting to any desperate moves.

***

No. 5: McDermott tasty, but Bulls hungry for more — The Bulls did some wheeling and dealing, and actually increased their payroll on draft night, to get a player they believe will be a perfect fit in Doug McDermott. But according to our Steve Aschburner, this is still a summer they will only be deemed a rousing success if Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James or Kevin Love winds up in Chicago:

McDermott’s strengths overlap enough with Mike Dunleavy that, now, the 12-year veteran and his $3.3 million salary are in play. Possibly in a sign-and-trade for Anthony, the scorer many Bulls fans believe will complement Rose, solve the team’s biggest problem and propel them back to the Eastern Conference finals.
It’s not just Dunleavy’s salary. It’s the money Chicago saved by turning two guaranteed first-round contracts into one. It’s the cap space it will free up once the Bulls invoke their long-anticipated amnesty cleanse of forward Carlos Boozer’s $16.8 million.
Rolled together, those and a few minor tweaks could give Chicago about $12 million to $13 million to offer Anthony — or theoretically James, a real long shot — as the starting salary of a four-year contract. Without going backward — shedding key players such as Taj Gibson or Jimmy Butler – in a stab at going forward.
Might it happen? Might Anthony choose to kiss buh-bye a far more lucrative offer from his most recent team, the Knicks (who can pay him $129 million over five seasons)? Might he bank $30 million or $40 million on Rose’s prognosis and, let’s face it, luck, choosing that over new N.Y. boss Phil Jackson’s proven jewelry box?
Sure. He might. James might go back to Cleveland, too. Love might run off and join his uncle’s band.
But without a big play in free agency, what the Bulls did on draft night won’t rise beyond a modest play for shooting and spacing. Nothing wrong with that, just as there was nothing really wrong four years ago in landing Boozer and a more experienced sharpshooter from Creighton. If McDermott can learn to defend and pass at the NBA level like Kyle Korver, while shooting as well or better, it’s a solid move.
It just won’t induce any state of calm and well-being around United Center, not without pharmaceuticals.tory here as you normally would do …

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George clears the air on Lance StephensonJose Calderon believes he could really help Carmelo Anthony…Rockets rookie Capela doesn’t want to wait.
ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Morning Shootaround — March 30



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Doc sends Davis to locker room | Sixers win | Carter wants to re-sign with Mavs | O’Neal praises Mark Jackson | Tuckers seeks a larger contract from Suns

No. 1: Doc sends Davis to locker room — The Los Angeles Clippers are rolling. They’re 15-2 over their last 17 games, and last night, despite losing All-Star Blake Griffin early to injury, they  were able to defeat the Houston Rockets 118-107. Unfortunately, things aren’t all roses in Lob City, as coach Doc Rivers was forced to call arena security to escort forward Glen Davis to the locker room midway through the game. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times has the story:

Losing All-Star power forward Blake Griffin with back spasms had already put the Clippers in a tough predicament, but it got more difficult when Coach Doc Rivers grew so upset at Glen Davis that he had the backup forward escorted from the game.

The Clippers just pressed on, walloping the Houston Rockets yet again, 118-107, Saturday at Toyota Center, to sweep their four-game season series.

But after the Clippers clinched a playoff spot for the third consecutive season, Rivers was forced to address the Davis situation.

“He was emotional tonight and we told him to go sit down,” Rivers said. “And I just thought he was a distraction. When guys are a distraction, I don’t think they should be on the bench.”

After Rivers had pulled Davis early in the second quarter, Davis yelled something at Rivers, who in turned yelled, “Sit your big … down.”

A few seconds later, associate head coach Alvin Gentry went to talk to Davis at the end of the bench, but Rivers then told the team’s security to take Davis to the locker room.

Rivers obviously still was upset at his power forward, which left the Clippers even more short-handed because Griffin was still in the locker room getting treatment.

“Nothing went on with me,” Rivers said. “I thought Baby was too emotional.

“And for me if you’re too emotional, I always send you back to the locker room and keep you back there until the next game. I love Baby. I just didn’t think emotionally he was ready to play tonight so we told him go to the locker room.”

***

No. 2:Sixers win — The long, national nightmare is over as the Philadelphia 76ers are back in the win column after trouncing the Detroit Pistons 123-98 last night. The Sixers 26-game losing streak tied the mark set by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers for worst streak in NBA history. However, the win also pushed the Milwaukee Bucks lead on the worst record in the league to two games over the Sixers. It should be an exciting race to end the season. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer has more on the win:

The Sixers downplayed the victory.

“It’s just like another win,” reserve guard Tony Wroten said. “It’s the NBA. You all are talking about the pressure. We weren’t worried about a streak. We were just trying to get better every day.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he never mentioned the losing streak to his team.

“I never went into a room and said, ‘We have to get out of the streak,’ ” he said. “We talked about, ‘Let’s bang out great days.’ I’m glad tonight that the win validates that.”

The win was a big lift for a franchise that turned into the laughingstock of professional sports during the skid.

ESPN had been poking fun at the team after each of its recent losses. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon even roasted the Sixers Friday night for losing 26 consecutive games.

That’s because they equaled the run of futility established by the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the 1976 and 1977 seasons. The Cleveland Cavaliers tied that record and set an NBA mark with 26 straight losses during the 2010-11 season.

No. 27 never came, as the Sixers dominated the lifeless Pistons (26-47), handing them their 11th loss in 13 games.

“I think we came out with fire like we try to do in a lot of these other games,” Sixers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams said. “We didn’t change anything. We wanted to win the ball game just like we’ve been doing every single day, every game, and every practice, just going out there playing hard.”

While they were made fun of, the Sixers said the losing streak didn’t affect them.

Sacrificing wins has been part of the team’s plan since Sam Hinkie was hired as general manager in May. The Sixers are using this season for player development, evaluating talent, and developing a culture. In the process, they hope to lose enough games to secure a top pick in the NBA draft in June.

“Our judgment day isn’t today, and it won’t be tomorrow,” Brown said before the game. “We are on a three- to five-year plan. Obviously, we want to win. We want to win every time we come on the floor. I coach to win. Our players play to win.”

Surely this victory provided relief for the Sixers, right?

“Not a relief,” [Hollis] Thompson said. “It’s just a sign that we have been doing the right things and working on the right things, and it’s finally playing off.”

***

No. 3: Carter wants to re-sign with Mavs — Vince Carter is 37 years old, but this has not stopped him from having a great season in Dallas averaging 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists in just 24.4 minutes per game. He’s a key contributor for the playoff-hopeful Dallas Mavericks, who utilize Carter’s new-found 3-point game which he has developed over his last three seasons in Dallas. This contribution allows Carter to hope he will be re-signed by Dallas this offseason, despite his age. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more:

In three seasons with the Mavericks, Carter has seen them go from defending champions to barely making the playoffs to missing them entirely.

Neither he nor anybody else knows if this season will produce a return to the postseason. But Carter does know two things.

This team is better than last year’s. And he desperately wants to hang around to see this rebuilding project through to the end.

Or at least next season.

“I think I’ve earned the right to stick around,” Carter said.

The 6-6 future Hall of Famer will be a free agent after this season. Carter’s three-year contract he signed before the 2011-12 season has been a huge bargain, as the Mavericks paid him only about $9.3 million for those years of work.

He hopes it is a no-brainer that he re-signs with the Mavericks.

“My fingers are crossed,” he said. “Next year might be even better. We can attract some more people, more talent. Now I know my role, and I know the system, it’s second nature to me now. I know the city very well. I’m stepping out, going to SMU games and getting out and about. I’m very comfortable here.

“I like the guys. I like the nucleus we have here. With my role and the way I play and the way I go about things, it really helps guys here. And they like that. Hopefully, that’s enough so that they can still have trust in me enough to play significant minutes and help the other guys out.”

It’s hard to say the 37-year-old Carter has put together one of the best seasons of his career if you base it solely on numbers. If you factor in personal satisfaction, however, it may be the best year he’s ever had.

Carter probably won’t win the NBA’s sixth man of the year award, but he’s deserving of consideration. He’s the true definition of the role. He plays about half the game, averages a point every two minutes played, can still levitate like it’s 1999 and has a burning desire to see this team continue to get better.

And that includes seeing what happens next. But Carter is wise enough to know that things may not work out.

“The business side, it happens,” he said. “And maybe they need the money. But I’m hoping we’re talking right here at this time next year.”

Carter’s play as this season has gone along has made it clear he’s not finished as a player. While he enjoys the mentoring role — you can see him on the sideline offering his experience to younger players during games — he’s still a gamer.

And he likes being the sixth man on a good team.

“In the beginning, that first year, it was learning how to go about it,” he said. “It’s still having the starter’s mentality, be aggressive, make plays, but within the confines of the offense. And understanding my role.

“That’s the biggest thing for all players, particularly for guys coming from a starting position into a backup role, is accepting the new position. Once I understood it, everything is easier.”

***

No. 4: O’Neal praises Mark Jackson — The Golden State Warriors, at 45-27, would be the sixth seed in the Western Conference with a first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers if the playoffs started today. Not a bad spot, but lower than many expected the Warriors to be this season after their playoff run last year and with the addition of Andre Iguodala this offseason. But despite these rough spots, center Jermaine O’Neal can’t stand speculative talk about how the Warriors should fire coach Mark Jackson. Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News has O’Neal’s comments:

Warriors veteran big man Jermaine O’Neal called any talk of firing coach Mark Jackson “ridiculous” and “unfair” before offering a vote of confidence unique to his own NBA career.

O’Neal is considering retirement, and if the 35-year-old were to decide to play next season, he said it would be because of Jackson and that the team he would choose would be the Warriors.

“It’s a couple reasons why I will come back,” O’Neal said Saturday. “This fan base, this organization is first class, and obviously my teammates are great, as well.

“But the No. 1 reason that I will come back and play another year is because of Coach Jackson. I’m absolutely, 100 percent positive about that. He makes it easy to come in this gym every day, and there’s not a lot of coaches that do that.”

O’Neal, whom Jackson noted was “underpaid” and “a steal” while playing on a $2 million, one-year contract, said he would choose Golden State despite the distance from family because Jackson has shown just how much he cares about his players.

Offering up an example, the business-minded O’Neal said Jackson allowed him to miss practice Tuesday so he could go to Mountain View to attend Y Combinator’s Demo Day, which features startup companies making presentations.

O’Neal also appreciated how Jackson has been mindful of putting too much of a physical burden on him because of his age and experience.

With Andrew Bogut going down with a pelvic contusion in Friday’s win against Memphis, O’Neal’s presence in the lineup could be needed once again for Sunday’s game against New York as the Warriors look to close out a playoff berth with 10 games left.

“To me, it’s one of the most unfair things that I’ve seen in a long time,” O’Neal said. “And it truly is a team that’s 18 games over .500. Eighteen. And we’re talking about firing a coach with 10, 11 games left?

“Here’s the facts. To everybody that’s negative out there, you may not ever see this again. I know that firsthand because I’ve been in the position. It may take 10 years to be back in that position, so do you want to accept us with open arms and continue to show the support?”

***

No. 5: Tucker seeks a larger contract from Suns — It’s no secret that Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker is a bargain at his current league-minimum contract of $884,000. He’s arguably the motor which keeps the Suns’ high-energy engine running and he does so while averaging 9.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals (along with superb defense) in 30.9 minutes per game. This bargain for the Suns may not last long, as Tucker hopes to sign a larger contract this summer. Paul Coro of Arizona Central Sports has the quotes:

Suns forward P.J. Tucker picked up a technical foul recently and joked that he wants the Suns to have it taken out of next year’s salary.

For one, Tucker knows he will be making much more money next season after playing on a veteran’s minimum contract for the next two seasons. It also played his hand that he wants and expects to be back with the Suns next season despite becoming a restricted free agent in July.

“Of course, why would I not?” Tucker said. “They brought me here. I think I exceeded their expectations and mine with what has transpired. Of course, I want to retire a Sun.”

Tucker, 28, was a second-round pick by Toronto in 2006 who was assigned to the D-League and released before his rookie season ended. Tucker became an overseas star, playing in Germany, Ukraine, Israel and Puerto Rico, before he joined the Suns’ Summer League team in 2012 and signing a two-year, partially guaranteed deal.

He emerged as a standout defender and the Majerle Hustle Award winner and started all season this year with improved 3-point shooting. “Forbes” magazine named Tucker the most underpaid player in the league for his $884,000 salary.

“The love I have for this organization will always be,” Tucker said. “They gave me a chance to prove myself and actually to prove that I’m a player in this league. It’s almost emotional for me to think about everything I’ve been through and for them to give me an opportunity to do it. Not just to be on the team, but in two seasons, I’ve started a whole year and a half for the team on a minimum contract. That doesn’t happen.

“When I sit back and think about it, which I never do, it’s too much. So I’ll always be indebted.”

Friday night’s game emphasizes Tucker’s value to a team beyond being a locker room leader. Knowing they have a defender of the caliber, strength and versatility of Tucker allow the coaching staff to assign him to top wing scorers like Carmelo Anthony and create a defensive game plan around that.

In restricted free agency, the Suns will be able to match any offer sheet that Tucker signs with another team and keep him. He knows his value is about to skyrocket.

“The moment you sit back and think, ‘Hmmm,’ that’s the moment you’re losing,” Tucker said. “You can’t do that. Not right now I can’t.

“I’m nervous but excited at the same time. This is the most important time in my career. I kind of took a pay cut to come so this is my one chance.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Andrew Bogut suffered a pelvic contusion and was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Saturday. … The San Antonio Spurs win their 17th-straight game. … Chris Paul recorded 30 points and 12 assists to lead the Clippers past the Rockets.

ICYMI of the Night: Ebony Nettles-Bay is an AAU high-school basketball player who was diagnosed with cancer in September. If you haven’t read her story, you can (and should) here. She’s a huge LeBron James fan who had the dream of meeting him. This inspired the hashtag #LeBronMeetsEbony which you may have seen on social media. Her dream came true last night as she met her hero in Milwaukee. James spoke about the moment after the game.


VIDEO: James on Ebony Nettles-Bay

Mild-Mannered Hornacek Infusing Suns With Just The Right Amount Of Fire


VIDEO: Jeff Hornacek talks about learning the ropes as an NBA coach

It took until the end of the second week of the season, five minutes into the second half of a game against the visiting Pelicans. It took five sloppy turnovers in the space of just three infuriating minutes.

It was, in fact, all  Jeff Hornacek could take. As he signaled for a timeout to apply a tourniquet, he whirled, raised an exasperated fist and slammed it down hard on the court side press table.

“Oh yeah,” said guard Eric Bledsoe as he thought back to the moment. “That got our attention. That was the first time I had ever seen him get that mad. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘Oh, he does have that in him.’ “

It was one of the questions that loomed from the time the 50-year-old Hornacek took over as the Suns coach in May following Phoenix’s 25-win season of 2012-13, the fewest wins in franchise history since the expansion season (1968-69). Was Hornacek simply too nice of a guy to do the heavy lifting required by the job?

“You can see where people might get that impression from the outside,” said small forward P.J. Tucker. “Because for the most part he’s always the same. He doesn’t have those emotional swings that you see from a lot of coaches. I know you hear a lot of coaches say they don’t intend to be that way. Then you watch them and see them losing it.

“From the first day that he got together with this team, all Jeff has been focused on is getting us to play with emotion, play hard, play aggressive. He channels his energy into us.”

“It important that the coach can stay calm, especially on a young team like this one,” said guard Goran Dragic. “When players are going through bad minutes on the floor, you need someone that can keep his confidence. It allows you to move forward. I will say that he is a nice guy as long as you don’t take advantage of him. If you do, he can bring you back to the ground.”

It was hardly the ideal situation to have your coaching baptism. After the misery of last season, the Suns went into an almost total rebuilding mode, purging the roster of most of their veteran players. Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O’Neal and Wesley Johnson were moved over the summer. Marcin Gortat, Kendall Marshall and Shannon Brown were traded to the Wizards just before the season opener.

So who was left? Veterans Dragic and Channing Frye to mix with Bledsoe, Tucker, Marcus and Markieff Morris and a No. 1 draft choice in Alex Len (who needed ankle surgery and has played just token minutes in four games). It was a roster picked by most experts to finish rock bottom in the rugged Western Conference and Las Vegas oddsmakers posted the over-under on Suns wins for the season at 21.5. The Suns and their coach getting his first crack at being the man in charge could have been offended.

“No,” Hornacek said. “Obviously this team won 25 games last year. We traded away a lot of our veteran guys who helped them win games last year. So we understand how it looks. But we went into this season and training camp tell our players, hey, you’re gonna read all that stuff, hear all that stuff. But if we play hard, we believe you guys are good players and if we play together and play hard we’ll win our fair share of games. I’m not going to put our a number on it or anything like that. But we’ll win our fair share and so far that’s what’s happened.”


VIDEO: Bledsoe fuels Suns’ victory in Houston

So the group went out and made Hornacek the first coach in Suns history to win his first four home games. They kept every game within a five-point margin in the final five minutes for the first three weeks of the season. After a home win against Toronto on Friday night, they stand at 11-9. They are doing it with an offensive style that wants to run when it can and a defensive approach that is always attacking on the perimeter. Hornacek is making the most of the guard tandem of Dragic and Bledsoe that many thought create duplication and conflict.

“Look, I’m only a rookie in this league myself, but I’ve had a lot of coaches at other levels of the game,” said center Miles Plumlee, “and I think what we are is a reflection of Jeff’s personality. What I know of him during his pro career is a guy that used no excuses, took no shortcuts and got the most out of his ability.”

All the while he’s been doing it by keeping a lid on those outward displays of emotions.

“I slip every once in a while,” Hornacek said. “They could drive you crazy. That’s part of it. Not everything’s gonna go perfectly. I think all coaches get frustrated when they see the same errors over and over. If they see something new, OK, maybe haven’t seen that. But the guy makes a mistake and does the same thing and does the same thing that’s when you’re gonna pound your head and say ‘OK, we talked about that.’ That’s the way it is.

“We’re also pretty young except for a couple of guys, Channing and Goran have been around. Everyone else is playing minutes that they’ve never played before. So we hopefully learn, but that’s a big part of it. I think it’s also part as an ex-player to want to be out there. You see things happen and you can give these guys all the preparation and talk about reads, but they actually have to do it out there … Maybe as ex-players, you see, ‘This is gonna develop.’ But they’ve got to figure that out.”

So far, Hornacek is giving his Suns enough room and push to do that.

New-Look Suns Getting It Done


VIDEO: Suns keep rolling, drop Pelicans

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Of the 16 players that suited up for the Phoenix Suns last season, 12 are gone.

Then there was the ultimate short-timer Caron Butler, a Suns player this summer just long enough to model the franchise’s new uniforms at a Scottsdale mall. In all, eight players are new to the roster, and straight from the feel-good department is Channing Frye returning from a scary heart condition that robbed him of the entire 2012-13 season. Frye is the Suns’ longest-tenured player, signed as a free agent way back in 2009, before current general manager Ryan McDonough had celebrated his 30th birthday.

The Suns’ starting five includes two players from last season: P.J.Tucker and Goran Dragic to go with Frye, Miles Plumlee and star-in-the-making Eric Bledsoe.

And here they are, a team that figured to lose games at a rapid rate is 5-2 and leading the Pacific Division. So how is it possible for an organization that hired a new GM, hired a new coach, cleaned house and then traded its talented starting center Marcin Gortat to Washington a week before the season started (for an injured one who might not play at all) to have already secured one-fifth of its win total from all of last season?

(more…)

Butler Embraces Leading Suns, Beasley

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Eric Bledsoe, the 23-year-old point guard brimming with star potential, won the headlines in the Phoenix Suns’ July trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. But it might be the veteran in the deal, 33-year-old forward and by far the club’s elder statesmen, Caron Butler, who proves most valuable in this important transitional season for a franchise on the skids.

Troubled power forward Michael Beasley is the poster child for everything that’s gone wrong in Phoenix. He was a disgrace on the floor last season, his first after the Suns’ former front-office decision-makers gift-wrapped him a three-year, $18-million contract, and continues to be an embarrassment off it.

Investigated for sexual assault in May, Beasley was arrested two weeks ago when officers detected pot after pulling him over for speeding. The franchise has not publicly addressed this latest disappointment. The fact is they have two choices: Wipe their hands of him and eat the remaining $9 million he’s guaranteed, or somehow try to help the self-destructive former No. 2 pick, just 24, whose career, and potentially a life outside of prison, is hanging by the threads of a frayed shoelace.

“I think there’s a lot that can be done to help him and I think one is, and this is not from the organization or anything, but it’s just for the people who are around him and love him most, is just don’t give up on him, try to help him as much as possible, build him up because he’s a star,” Butler told NBA.com during a phone interview from his new home in Phoenix. “He’s a guy that had an unbelievable collegiate career, who came into the NBA as a top-two pick, so the talent is there, it hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s like clay, it just needs to be molded right. Somebody needs to be around him, talking to him and telling him the right things and building him up and keeping nothing but positive energy around him and moving him forward instead of pulling him back.”

Butler, a raging success story born out of an unsavory childhood, was arrested numerous times before he turned 15. He said if if the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Beasley remains with the team, Butler will stick by the Beasley’s side and mentor him.

“I would stay in his ear, I would definitely stay in his ear,” Butler said. “I would continue to motivate him and I would challenge him night-in and night-out, in practice, just whatever I can do to make him better I would do as a human being, and obviously as a basketball player because I think he has tremendous upside still. He’s just 24 years old.”

It’s hardly the role the 6-foot-7 small forward envisioned prior to July 10. Butler was at his offseason home in Washington D.C. with his wife and three young daughters when he received a phone call from his agent. He had been traded. Only a couple of weeks earlier Butler was ecstatic at the news that the Clippers had pulled off the deal to nab Celtics coach Doc Rivers, a move that would cinch Chris Paul‘s return and fire up championship hype. Then came the unsuspecting call from his agent that he and Bledsoe were headed to the 25-win Suns.

Butler soon saw the news on the crawl on TV. No one from the Clippers’ front office has called him, Butler said.

“I don’t leave with bitterness or anything, but a phone call would have helped the situation,” said Butler, who two summers ago signed a three-year, $24 million free-agent deal to play for the Clippers before the club’s fortuitous, franchise-changing trade for CP3. “But it’s cool, it’s no hard feelings because that’s the nature of the business.

“It’s a fun team to watch,” Butler continued. “Up-and-down tempo, you look at the high flyers of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and you’ve got a magician with the ball in Chris Paul. You got shooters around them, you got J.J. Redick, and a great coach and a great coaching staff. You look at that and that’s real appealing, and that’s Hollywood.”

With that potential storybook season fading to black, Butler quickly moved his family to Phoenix where he’s been working out in preparation for the start of training camp roughly still five weeks away. In July, he spent a week in Las Vegas during the NBA’s Summer League with a handful of veterans, including Andre Iguodala, participating an NBA Players Association leadership program. The intensive course ran eight hours a day and provided players who might have front-office aspirations with a comprehensive look inside the business, from the fine print of the collective bargaining agreement to formulating scouting reports on teams and players.

The week in Vegas also provided Butler a chance to have dinner with his new coach, Jeff Hornacek, and to mingle with — and scout — several of his new teammates that played on the summer team (one of his leadership program assignments was to scout the Suns players and coaches during a game), including Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, P.J. TuckerKendall Marshall and promising draft pick Archie Goodwin.

“I just saw a lot of potential,” said Butler, who slyly deferred when asked for his summation of Hornacek’s performance: “I can’t share that.”

So this new chapter isn’t CP3, Griffin, Doc and the Lob City thrill show he expected in the final year of his contract. But then Butler seems to possess a deeper perspective as he prepares for his 12th season with a sixth team.

“I look at it as a situation in which I look at my life, I look at my timeline, and one, a lot of people didn’t even have me here [in the NBA], and a lot of people didn’t have me here this long,” said Butler, who averaged 10.4 ppg last season and will likely see his career-low 24.1 mpg rise in Phoenix. “And to have the success that I have and still maintain my humbleness and still be the person that I am, that speaks volumes.

“So whatever comes my way, I take it in stride and I just keep moving forward. So it is what it is and I’m going to make the best out of the situation that I’m in now.”

And just maybe the Suns organization is hopeful that Beasley can learn from a man who has walked in shoes not much different from his own.

Beasley Will Walk Thin Line With New Suns

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Ryan McDonough, the 33-year-old rookie general manager of the Phoenix Suns has been on the job for some 80 days and already he’s showing some moxie.

Since drawing some blank stares as if his pick of Maryland big man Alex Len at No. 5 was a desert mirage while Kentucky 7-foot center Nerlens Noel, long projected to go No. 1, or Kansas scoring guard Ben McLemore stood in plain view, McDonough has now begun to rattle the thin roster he inherited.

He turned solid, if unspectacular, guard-forward Jared Dudley and a second-round draft pick into potential All-Star-quality guard Eric Bledsoe and veteran forward Caron Butler. Now, McDonough is on the verge of unloading fast-declining forward Luis Scola, an ill-fit in new coach Jeff Hornacek‘s favored up-tempo offense, in a trade with Indiana that will reportedly net lanky and athletic journeyman Gerald Green and project center Miles Plumlee, plus a lottery-protected first-round pick.

Not that those trades will launch the Suns into playoff contention, but the additions fill two key areas on McDonough’s list as he remakes the roster: athleticism and a fundamental work ethic. Which delivers us to the doorstep of the one player on the roster [note: my speculation only] McDonough would love to jettison if only he could: Michael Beasley.

Asked during the Las Vegas Summer League if he believes the always tantalizing, but troublesome 6-9, 235-pound power forward can be a positive force during this important transitional season, McDonough answered with a team-wide message — one that should resonate loudest between Beasley’s ears.

“I guess what I’ll say generally about that is we’re going to treat everybody the same,” McDonough said. “There won’t be any special treatment for anybody on the roster and as Jeff [Hornacek] and I told all the guys coming in, we don’t care how much money you’re making, where you were drafted, how long you’ve been in the league, what, if anything, you’ve been promised in the past. We’re going into this as an open competition, and when training camp comes, guys who buy in and play the right way and play hard will play, and those who don’t, won’t.”

In a league brimming with bright, young talent, Beasley, 24, has been far more raging headache than headstrong virtually since the day the Miami Heat drafted him second overall in 2008. Last summer, inexplicably, the gracious Suns, Beasley’s third team, handed him a three-year, $18 million deal. Still, Beasley ignored the cue that this was his big shot at a second chance, an opportunity to turn around his selfish and tiresome act, as well as his floundering career.

Former Suns coach Alvin Gentry benched the unproductive Beasley last season in fourth quarters as early as December, and finally stripped him of his starting job. Following the fired Gentry, interim coach Lindsey Hunter had no answers for Beasley’s inattention to defense or just about anything else.

Imagine if the Chicago Bulls had selected Beasley No. 1 over Derrick Rose? The Heat at No. 2 could have drafted No. 4 Russell Westbrook, No. 5 Kevin Love, No. 6 Danilo Gallinari, No. 7 Eric Gordon or No. 10 Brook Lopez.

If Beasley doesn’t answer this wake-up call, he won’t be afforded another chance. He is fortunate the NBA is not the non-guaranteed-contract world of the NFL, where a player can be cut and his contract flushed in a moment’s notice. It’s the only reason he has a job today.

Beasley averaged career lows across the board last season. His poor play and worse attitude drained a club that was already outmanned on most nights. But it’s not just on the court that Beasley will be expected to reform. His inability to stay out of hot water off remains troublesome. In May, police were investigating Beasley in connection with a report of sexual assault at his home.

The 2013-14 Suns will need a lot to come together fast to contend for the eighth seed. But under Hornacek’s guidance and with blue-collar players like P.J. Tucker along with twins Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris — all three of whom played on the Suns’ summer-league squad — and the additions of the up-and-coming Bledsoe and a tough-minded, respected veteran like Butler, Phoenix will play hard.

Beasley will either take this last, flashing-neon-sign-of-a-hint that his career is on the line, or, as McDonough said, he won’t.

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 11 Recap

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LAS VEGAS – Ian Clark is the essence of Summer League.

The 22-year-old out of Belmont was the Ohio Valley Conference co-player of the year. He was a two-time defensive player of the year and a four-time all-conference selection. He never shot below 40 percent in a season from behind the arc.

At the June 27 NBA Draft at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Clark’s name was never called.

Undrafted and looking for his big shot, the unheralded, and mostly unheard of Clark — not Kent Bazemore or Draymond Green, but the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Clark — carried the Golden State Warriors, with seven 3-pointers and a game-high 33 points, to a  91-77 victory over the Phoenix Suns in the inaugural Summer League tournament championship game.

In the NBA playoffs they call that kind of performance a podium game because the player would be asked to appear at the dais to meet the media. In the Summer League, well, let’s call it a contract game. It might not come from the Warriors, whose well-stocked backcourt includes the impressive Bazemore (who was also voted to the all-Summer-League team). But there’s 29 other NBA teams out there that might want Clark, and only one has to make an offer.

At least a few, according to a Warriors official, have offered Clark at least a partially guaranteed contract. The 2013 Summer League championship game MVP, the official said, also has lucrative options in Europe.

“Hopefully,” Clark said of making an NBA roster after besting his career-high at Belmont by one point. “I just wanted to come out here and play hard, and I think that’s what Summer League is for, to come out here and showcase your talents.

Before the championship game, Clark had averaged 9.0 points, scoring 54 points in the previous six games.

The Warriors capped their Vegas run with a 7-0 record and made it consecutive summers without a loss. The Phoenix Suns, led by new coach Jeff Hornacek and key roster players Marcus and Markieff Morris, along with P.J. Tucker, suffered their first loss but may have gained a pretty good player as they continue to rebuild next season.

Late first-round draft pick Archie Goodwin had an impressive run and ended it with 18 points. The lanky, 6-foot-5, one-and-done guard out of Kentucky consistently outplayed Kendall Marshall, the Suns’ lottery pick from last season. Goodwin averaged 13.1 ppg and shot 50 percent from the floor.

So that will do it for the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League. The big boys are in town now for a U.S. Men’s National Team mini-camp that started Monday and runs through Thursday, when the intra-squad scrimmage will be broadcast live at 9 p.m. ET on NBA TV.

2013 All-Summer League Team

MVP: Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto)

Kent Bazemore (Golden State)

Cody Zeller (Charlotte)

John Henson (Milwaukee)

Jeff Taylor (Charlotte)

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 10 recap

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LAS VEGAS –
 The Miami Heat will not double-down in Vegas. The back-to-back NBA champs were seeking a Summer League title with a team whose roster is filled with young hopefuls that will not play for the 2013-14 Heat.

The only familiar face affiliated with the summer Heat has been that of coach Erik Spoelstra, who has watched the team perform from a front row seat throughout the week. Still, this Heat team deserves a lot of credit. Coached by assistant coach Dan Craig, a former Heat video assistant, just like Spoelstra used to be, Miami entered the inaugural Summer League tournament as the No. 18 seed and landed in the semifinal round.

But they seemed no match for the No. 3-seed Phoenix Suns, who feature three rotation players in P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris, plus last year’s No. 13 pick Kendall Marshall and this year’s No. 29 pick Archie Goodwin. And new head coach Jeff Hornacek has been on the bench throughout the summer league.

The Suns led 60-40 midway through the third quarter before Miami’s James Nunnally (24 points), a D-Leaguer in Bakersfield last season, James Ennis (25 points, nine rebounds), a long-shot draft pick out of Long Beach State, D.J. Kennedy (18 points, six rebounds), who logged two games with Cleveland in 2011-12, and Eric Griffin, who played in Italy last season, rallied the Heat.

Nunnally’s 3-pointer with 3:51 to go put Miami ahead 84-83 and the Suns were getting burned to the point of embarrassment. It didn’t sit well with Tucker, who quickly jacked up the intensity.

“We weren’t losing that. We got too many roster players and we working too hard to get this done,” Tucker said. “Me, Markieff, Marcus, Kendall, we got way too many roster players on this team I feel like to be losing. So for me, it was a little personal at the end to try to really get the win.”

Tucker’s two free throws and then a jumper put the Suns up 89-87 with 1:07 to go as he looked over to the Heat bench and directed a few words their way. The Suns (6-0) held on to win it 91-89 and will face the top-seeded Golden State Warriors (6-0) in Monday’s championship game (9 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

The Warriors, led by roster players Draymond Green and Kent Bazemore, advanced with a 75-67 win over the No. 5 Charlotte Bobcats, who elected again to not play Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo and No. 4 pick Cody Zeller.

Kidd-Gilchrist will stay in Vegas for the U.S. Men’s National Team training camp that runs Monday through Thursday. Both Zeller and Biyombo did not play in the last two games.

So Monday’s matchup will be a battle of unbeatens in the first Summer League championship game with the Warriors looking to make it 14 straight Summer League victories. And if you don’t think both teams — the Suns with their roster players and the Warriors with their winning streak — are taking this seriously, think again.

“It is for real for us,” said Bazemore, a leading MVP candidate who had a tough shooting going 4-for-12 for 13 points, but also collected four assists. “We came out here and had a mini-camp where we were just working out, and we always look at each other like we work too hard to just get to a certain place and be satisfied. We always feel like we can win a game. We’re probably the best de-… well, we are the best defensive team here. Defense wins championships.”

Non-rookie of the day: Who else could it be other than the Suns’ Tucker, who finished with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, plus rebounds and two steals.

Other notables:  The Suns’ Marcus Morris contributed 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting in 22 minutes, and Dionte Christmas had 10 points, three rebounds and three assists. Golden State’s Green put up a double-double after three quarters and finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and four steals.

Rookie of the day: The Heat’s Ennis scored a game-high 25 points on 8-for-17 shooting in the two-point loss to the Suns. He also grabbed nine rebounds, an impressive six on the offensive glass, and had just two turnovers in more than 34 minutes of action.

Other notables: Big man Arinze Onuaku, a D-Leaguer last season in Canton, scored 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting and had four rebounds off the bench in just 14:40. Undrafted rookie Chris Babb out of Iowa State had nine points, four boards and four assists for the Suns in 17:42 off the bench. Miami’s Nunnally went 5-for-6 from 3-point range and was 8-for-12 overall coming off the bench for 24 points. Former Syracuse guard Brandon Triche played prominently for the Bobcats with 13 points and five rebounds off the bench and teammate Troy Daniels, undrafted out of Virginia Commonwealth, had 13 points and seven rebounds. Two-year D-League vet Cameron Jones had 16 points for the Warriors. 

Coming up: The final day of the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League will see its inaugural title game pitting the Warriors against the Suns.

P.J. Tucker Rises Up In Phoenix

 

From the beginning, during preseason, coach Alvin Gentry saw the hints. He called P.J. Tucker, relatively unknown as a summer acquisition in a time the Suns added the likes of veterans Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Jermaine O’Neal along with lottery pick Kendall Marshall, one of the standouts of camp. It was very early for a player trying to stick, but it was something.

Then came the regular season, when Tucker turned the training-camp optimism into a key reserve role with defense while backing up Michael Beasley, another Phoenix pickup with a bigger name, at small forward. And then came the last few days.

Tucker had 11 points on five-of-11 shooting in Wednesday’s win against the Trail Blazers and followed by contributing 15 points on five-of-eight shooting, including a couple of  three-pointers, as Phoenix rallied from 19 down to beat the Hornets, and suddenly the Suns had something more than a one-dimensional specialist.

“Nobody knows what happens in Europe, so everybody is like, ‘He’s just a defensive player,’ ” Tucker told Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic of returning to the NBA after extensive overseas experience. “So I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m just a defensive player.’ It’s a surprise if I score or anything happens. That’s cool with me. I don’t care how people look at me.

“Cheat off. I’m going to shoot it and knock it down.”

People do know what happens in Europe, where the leagues are heavily scouted, but point taken. Tucker, a Texas product who played 17 games with the Raptors as a rookie in 2006-07 in his only previous NBA experience, was not known as an offensive weapon despite averaging 16.2 points last season in Germany, 19.4 in another campaign in Ukraine and putting up numbers in Israel, Greece and Puerto Rico.

Yet he is a different player from even then, for the strangest of reasons. Tucker was inadvertently poked in the eye by Scola during camp, suffered double vision and eventually needed surgery – a procedure Tucker credits for helping his game. After the Portland-New Orleans surge, he is all the way up to 54.9 percent from the field, with 5.3 points in 18.4 minutes.