PHOENIX, Ariz. – With time winding down, guard Devin Booker had the ball in his hands with a chance to win the game. The only thing separating him from the basket was forward P.J. Tucker.
Booker drove the lane. Tucker stood his ground.
There was contact. A whistle blew. The call: offensive foul.
“Book ran me over,” Tucker said.
And right there, in what would be his last act with the Phoenix Suns, Tucker displayed the heart, hustle and defensive mentality that made him a fan favorite and endeared himself to his coaches and teammates.
“I wish you all would’ve saw practice today,” guard Eric Bledsoe told reporters 30 minutes before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, adding about Tucker, “I don’t want to lose him. He’s one of the hardest working competitors I’ve played with. The things he does, they don’t show up on the stat sheet.”
Moments later, Tucker walked out of Talking Stick Resort Arena, on his way to Toronto. Bledsoe and the rest of the Suns, meanwhile, boarded a bus for the airport to catch a plane to Chicago, where they’ll play the Bulls on Friday, the start of a three-game road trip.
The Suns (18-39) have 25 games left in the 2016-17 season.
“This is a critical point of our season,” head coach Earl Watson said.
Critical because the Suns want to finish strong. Perhaps not so much in the won-loss column, but in the development of a very young and talented roster.
“I see a bright future in this organization. A lot of young talent,” center Tyson Chandler said. “As long as I’m here, I’m going to continue to help these youngsters grow and play my part.”
Chandler, enjoying one of his better NBA seasons at age 34, found himself the subject of trade rumors. Yet, the 1 p.m. deadline passed with no news.
“You always want to be wanted around this league,” he said. “If your name is being thrown around, that’s a good thing.”
Chandler has made no secret of his desire, and more importantly, willingness to stay and watch the Suns, his sixth different team, grow.
Chandler sees it as his duty as a professional.
“This is, when I was a young player, when I grew the most. It was the second half of the season. I got a lot more minutes when I was younger. We ultimately, when I was younger, took the next step and the following year became a playoff team,” he said, referring to the 2004-05 Chicago Bulls.
“I think it’s important down the stretch that they get good quality minutes. Fourth quarter. Decision making. All of that. This is a big time for a lot of these young players to grow.”
— Aside from their own players mentioned in reported trade talks, the Suns found themselves linked to a number of players, namely center DeMarcus Cousins. On Sunday night, just as news broke Cousins had been dealt to New Orleans, Bledsoe, a Kentucky teammate of Cousins, turned to social media and tweeted, “Wow!”
“DeMarcus is like my brother. I would love to play with him, but the decision was made. Sacramento decided to trade him to the Pelicans. I wish him the best of luck,” he said. “All I can focus on is what’s going on here. We got a great group of guys. We’re building for something special, so that’s the only thing I can worry about.”
— The last time we saw Bledsoe and the Suns in action, they were beating up on the Lakers, 137-101, prior to the All-Star break. Bledsoe highlighted the win with his third career triple-double.
“I just want to win, man,” he said, laughing, when asked whether another such performance was in his future. “I don’t care about none of that. A win solves everything, so I don’t care if I score two points or (grab) two rebounds, whatever; as long as we get the win, that’s probably the happiest I’ll be.”
— Two weeks following arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle, rookie forward Dragan Bender is no longer in a walking boot. The Suns hope Bender, drafted fourth overall, is able to return sometime this season.
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