P.J. Tucker ‘excited’ for his Phoenix Suns season opener
PHOENIX — While he’s practiced and participated in shootaround the past week, small forward P.J. Tucker has yet to see a single minute of playing time. Even worse, he’s yet to put on the Phoenix Suns uniform or be seated with his teammates on the bench.
The game day experience has eluded the fan favorite.
Suspended the first three games of the regular season, Tucker was forced to watch the Suns’ 2-1 start from the comfort of his living room.
“It sucks,” he said. “I could barely watch. I had to like get away and walk away. We put so much work in. I’ve been here so long so I know everything so to not be there for my guys, it kind of sucks. I’m excited about coming back.”
Tucker’s exile ends Tuesday when the Suns play at the winless Los Angeles Lakers.
“It is my opener, for me,” he said. “First game out. I’ve been working hard in the gym with coaches while the team has been playing, so I finally get a chance to get out there with my guys. I can’t wait.”
The NBA suspended Tucker three games without pay following his guilty plea to super extreme DUI, the result of his arrest in Scottsdale back in May.
“It’s tough (having basketball taken away),” he said. “That’s the first time it’s ever happened like that. It’s an experience. I’ll never miss another game anymore because it makes you really realize that. I love playing basketball so when it gets taken like that, it’s tough.”
Tucker’s passion for the game allowed him to endure five seasons overseas and four Las Vegas Summer League stints before landing a two-year contract to join the Suns in 2012.
Since then, all Tucker has done is endear himself to a fan base with a hard-nosed style of play and work ethic that twice won him the Dan Majerle Hustle Award, the first player to win the award in back-to-back years.
That on-court raw emotion will soon be unleashed.
“Nine years, this is the longest preseason I’ve ever experienced in my life,” he said. “But, I’m excited to go. The guys have been playing well, so I’m excited to get with them.”
Tucker, though, won’t regain his starting spot, at least not initially.
“He’s been out for a few games, so we’ll get his legs going a little bit. Then we’ll see after that,” said head coach Jeff Hornacek, who plans to stick with a first unit of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Miles Plumlee. “We’ve done okay the way we are, so we’ll probably stay that way.”
Tucker started 81 games last season, missing one game due to a league suspension, and has started 126 of the 160 games he’s played with the Suns.
“I think it’ll be different for me because I’ve been starting pretty much since I’ve been here,” said Tucker, who last came off the bench in a game on Mar. 16, 2013. “It’s just an adjustment. We’ll see what happens and whatever coach wants to do, I’m fine with. I’m just ready to play.”
His teammates are ready for him to return.
“Really excited. P.J. is our boost (of) energy,” Dragic said. “Every time when I see him on the floor, he’s like drooling and like (makes roaring sound). He’s going to go at the guy. It makes so easy for me because you feed out of his energy. Can’t wait to get him back.”
Tucker’s return will likely cut into Marcus Morris’ minutes (24.3 per game, fourth-most on the team) and let Hornacek keep Gerald Green at shooting guard, unless he chooses to go with a smaller lineup.
Tucker is the Suns’ best defender and second-best rebounder. His 6.5 average trailed only Plumlee last season.
Rebounding has been a concern of the Suns since day one and was magnified in a 118-91 loss at Utah on Saturday. The Jazz out-rebounded the Suns 52-34, including 13-6 on the offensive end which led to 19 Jazz second chance points.
Often described as the heart and soul of the team, Tucker’s vocal leadership, both on and off the floor, was much-needed in Utah.
“He’s kind of our team leader,” Hornacek said. “When things aren’t going good, he’ll step up and say things to guys. You have other guys that say it, but not as demonstratively as P.J. does. It’s that leadership that will help us now that he’s back.”