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Phoenix Suns’ vocal, emotional leader P.J. Tucker wants to return

PHOENIX — Genuine. Enthusiastic. Unrehearsed.

P.J. Tucker, unlike his teammate Eric Bledsoe, had no problem expressing both a hope and a desire to return next season.

Tucker, unlike Bledsoe — at least publicly — didn’t shy away from making his feelings known he wants to keep wearing the Phoenix Suns’ uniform.

“I love Phoenix,” he said when the players cleaned out their lockers late last week. “They gave me an opportunity to get back in the league and establish myself and I feel like I’ve done that.”

Tucker, like Bledsoe, is a restricted free agent.

Tucker, like Bledsoe, is a player the Suns have no interest in losing to another team.

“Have every intention of getting a deal done. We’ll try to do that as soon as possible and not let it get to the point where you’d have to get an offer and we’d match it. But one way or another we’d love to have P.J. back,” GM Ryan McDonough said. “We feel like he was a big part of our team on the court and also off the court. His emotion and spirit and energy, I think was really infectious and helped us out a lot this year.”

Tucker has been that vocal and emotional leader each of the past two years. He speaks up when the team is down, either at the half or end of games, often before the coaches; and his play on the court is unmatched when it comes to hard work and hustle, particularly on the defensive end, where he consistently guards the other team’s best player.

“I just like to play hard,” he said. “You’ve got to have somebody to make the little plays, the plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet to be a great team, to be a team to get better and a team to really take it to another level.”

In other words, Tucker is both the favorite teammate and annoying opponent.

“It’s good to be annoying. Nobody likes it at all. Trust me, nobody likes that,” he said.

Tucker is coming off his best season as a pro. He established career highs in points (9.4), rebounds (6.5, second-best mark on the team), assists (1.7) and steals (1.4). He averaged a career-high 30.7 minutes in 81 starts, falling just shy of perfect attendance only because the league suspended him one game for an elbow to the face of the Clippers’ Blake Griffin on March 11.

Tucker, who turns 29 next month, is a first-time free agent and can likely expect a significant raise from the $884,000 he earned this season.

His priority is to remain in Phoenix, and he promised his hunger to always improve, especially after a season in which the Suns came so close to postseason play, will stay.

“You want to take small leaps in everything. So even the stuff I’m really good at I still want to get better and the stuff I’m not so good at I want to take another step to get better at that. You want to get better at everything,” he said. “For us now, it’s a stepping block to get better and get ready for next year. Everybody knows to go into the offseason to get better with their games individually so when we come back as a collective unit, there’s no telling, sky’s the limit what can happen.”