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P.J. Tucker: Phoenix Suns have always been No. 1

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Overcome with emotion, P.J. Tucker’s eyes welled up with tears.

That his emotions would get the best of him late last week after agreeing to a new three-year contract with the Phoenix Suns should come as no surprise considering his passion for the game, which manifests itself in his hard-nosed play and hustle that has earned him the respect of his peers and endeared him to fans.

Also, Tucker had just earned financial security, a reported $16.5 million for him and his family, a well-deserved pay off for those five years he spent bouncing from one overseas team to another.

“I cried,” he said. “It was emotional, man. It was an emotional time.”

Tucker’s international career includes passport stamps from Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy, Puerto Rico and Germany.

“Anybody that’s been through what I’ve been through — I kind of Instagrammed about it — riding on dirt roads in the Ukraine, 12-hour bus rides because they didn’t have airports. I’ve been through it,” he said. “So to get to the point where I’m at now is just, only God and faith that I knew that I was supposed to be in the NBA. So every day, every game I leave it all out there. People think it’s just me playing hard. It’s me wanting to be in the NBA and trying to prove every game that I should be here.”

The Suns brought Tucker back to the NBA, signing him to a two-year deal in the summer of 2012. He turned that opportunity into a starting role, where he became one of the league’s better perimeter defenders with a solid corner three-point shooting stroke to keep opposing teams honest.

Twice he won the Dan Majerle Hustle Award, becoming the first player to win the award in back-to-back years.

Tucker, 29, entered free agency knowing the Suns could match any offer he might have received from another team given his restricted status. Houston, Memphis and New Orleans were among the teams that showed the most interest, but in the end, Tucker landed in the one spot he never wanted to leave.

“Luckily for me it worked out. I’m in the place where I want to be with a deal that I felt was fair. I’m pretty happy. Phoenix has always been No. 1 for me,” he said during a break from watching his teammates play in the Las Vegas Summer League.

“I’ve said it from day one. I wanted to be here. I was here when it wasn’t great. I was here when it got better. I want to be here. I’m back here and now I’m ready to work.”

Tucker, who is expected to sign his contract this week, is coming off a season in which he averaged career-highs with 9.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.4 steals with 38.7 three-point shooting in 30.7 minutes.

Just as important, and maybe even more so, was his locker room influence, especially on a young roster. He and Channing Frye were two of the louder voices and with Frye choosing to sign with Orlando, Tucker is expected to take on an even greater leadership role this season.

“With him being gone, it made me want to sign back even more because of all the young guys we’ve got,” Tucker said. “I definitely didn’t want to leave because I felt like I was leaving a chapter open. You kind of want to finish it out and try to see where it can go. I kind of leave it in the hands of the front office and see where we can take it.”

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