PHOENIX — He was so close.
P.J. Tucker thought he had slipped past the NBA trade deadline Thursday, despite rampant rumors that the Phoenix Suns would move him.
As the clock ticked toward the deadline at 1 p.m. MST, Suns swingman Devin Booker looked at him and, according to Tucker, said, “I told you, you weren’t going anywhere.”
Those proved to be fateful last words as Tucker jumped into the shower, presumably safe and ready to head with his teammates to Chicago. Then he learned from a mob of those same teammates that he had been dealt.
Rather than flying to Chicago with the Suns, Tucker was on his way to meet new teammates in Toronto.
The versatile forward, and the team’s best defender, was shipped to the Raptors for forward Jared Sullinger, a pair of second-round draft picks and cash considerations. The Suns are expected to waive the oft-injured Sullinger.
“Phoenix has changed my life, a lot of people here, a lot of fans,” Tucker said. “I couldn’t ask for a better place, better people or a (better) organization. It’s been my family for the last five, six years.”
There haven’t been many bright spots for the Suns during a six-year playoff drought that will reach seven this season, but Tucker was one of them.
For Tucker, heading to the Great White North is something of a homecoming. He was drafted in the second round by Toronto in 2006 after winning Big 12 Player of the Year honors at Texas.
Tucker played in 17 games as a rookie with the Raptors, then played for several clubs in Europe before returning to the NBA with the Suns in 2012.
“I have a great opportunity to go play for a team that’s doing well, trying to win,” Tucker said of the Raptors.
Since joining the Suns, Tucker has developed into a reliable role player, an ace defender and a solid corner three-point bomber. Maybe most important, he became the team’s locker room leader.
Despite his utility, the fact that the Suns are in a rebuilding mode, combined with Tucker’s expiring contract, made a trade all but inevitable.
Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough reportedly shopped Tucker for weeks, hoping to obtain a first-round pick from a team. In the end, he was willing to take the Toronto offer.
But Tucker wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a return as soon as this summer after his contract expires.
“This is home, this is home for my family,” he said. “You know, it’s one of those things I’m going to have to take a look at.”
Tucker’s final play as a member of the Suns — at least for now — was a charge he took on Booker to end practice, one that served as a microcosm of his time in Phoenix.
Tucker was always willing to do the dirty work to help the Suns win games. He won the team’s Dan Majerle Hustle Award, named for the Suns Ring of Honor member who was known for his toughness and work ethic, four consecutive years.
“I never even thought about not being a Phoenix Sun,” Tucker said.