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Suns’ P.J.Tucker getting ‘head start’ on season, new coaching staff

LAS VEGAS – P.J. Tucker doesn’t have to be here. He wants to be here.

For the second straight summer, Tucker is suiting up and playing for the Suns’ Summer League team; however, unlike last summer, there is no job to be won. He already has one.

Tucker guaranteed himself a 2013-14 roster spot (and an $884,293 payday) after averaging career highs in points (6.4), rebounds (4.4), assists (1.4) and minutes (24.2), while appearing in 79 games, including 45 starts in his first season in Phoenix.

His hard-nosed play and tenacity on defense instantly made him a fan favorite, and he went on to win the Dan Majerle Hustle Award.

Yet despite the success, here he is in Las Vegas, at age 28, the oldest player on the team, competing against guys five and six years younger (or in the case of Archie Goodwin, 10 years younger) than him.

The reason? It’s simple.

“Coach is coaching (Summer League),” Tucker said,referring to first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek. “I mean anytime your head coach is coaching, you get a chance to come in this summer, put some work in, get in early. For me, it’s a head start, get the season going, get familiar with the system and how they’re going to do things.”

Hornacek welcomed Tucker’s addition to the 13-man summer league roster.

“He was asking about it,” Hornacek said. “He was going to be in Vegas working out anyway. I said, ‘Well, if you’re going to be in Vegas working out anyway, why don’t you just play? Get those reps in with our guys and you’ll see what we do. We’ll put a little of our stuff in now. It’ll be a good starting point.’ He was like, ‘Okay, Coach, I’ll do it.’ We’re glad to have him.”

Tucker opened Summer League play with six points, five rebounds and two assists in Saturday’s win against Portland. He showed his post-up ability, spinning around the smaller Cedric Jackson, and an improved jump shot, hitting a 14-footer over 6-foot-10 Joel Freeland. Plus, he got after it defensively.

Tucker, who may not see action in every game, fits what Hornacek is looking for in a player.

“I think he really helps set the tone for our guys in terms of intensity defensive-wise,” Hornacek said. “He’s a great defender. He gets after guys. He’s physical. When guys see him out there, especially for the young guys coming in, they all kind of buy into that.”

Said Tucker of his new boss, “He likes tough, hard-nosed guys. He likes when I get up in people, pressure people. We want to get shots up. We want to have quick possessions, so for me, getting ahead with him is priority. That’s why I’m here.”

Another reason is the NBA Summer League has become almost a second home, perhaps even a summer home for Tucker. This is his sixth appearance.

He’s the perfect example of how Summer League play can lead to NBA play.

“I really don’t think these guys come in with the understanding that it can happen,” said Tucker, who played previously with Toronto, Cleveland, Memphis and Charlotte. “If you do the right things, you get in the right position, it can happen for you. I keep preaching to the young guys — I’m the old guy now here — I keep trying to teach them, you put in the work, it can work out. You’ve got to want it.”