PJ Tucker was originally drafted by the Toronto Raptors in 2006 with the 35th pick. In Tucker’s rookie season with the Raptors, he only played in 17 games and an average of fewer than 5 minutes in those games. The Raptors quickly discarded him without another thought.
PJ Tucker developed his game overseas and in 2012 he re-entered the NBA by signing with the Phoenix Suns. At the trade deadline, last year Tucker was traded for Jared Sullinger and two second-round picks.
Looking at a box score you wouldn’t be impressed by PJ Tucker’s stats, but if you watch him play you would notice his defensive impact. Last year the Raptors struggled to close-out on three-point shooters. PJ might not have solved all the Raptors problems, but would get up on opposing shooters and leave them little room to shoot. Tucker also had a developed a nice corner three. To have a hard-nosed defender that can give you a little something on offense is super valuable in the NBA right now.
The Raptors drafted OG Anunoby with the 23rd pick in the NBA draft this year. Dwane Casey referred to Anunoby as a “PJ Tucker Clone” in the press conference following the draft. Maybe PJ Tucker was bothered that he could see his replacement on the roster?
This summer it was reported that the Raptors offered PJ Tucker a deal that would pay him $11M/YR. It was clear Masai and the Raptors wanted him back, but Tucker took roughly $3M less per year to sign with the Rockets. If PJ would have accepted the Raptors offer how would that have changed what the Raptors team now looks like? Would the Raptors have still signed CJ Miles? If the Raptors didn’t sign Miles would they have looked to sign a power forward? Would Cory Joseph still be a Raptor? Would Jonas Valanciunas have been traded to get more money off the books? Is DeMarre Carroll still bitter and in Brooklyn? It’s easy to answer that last question, but the others not so much.
There has been speculation that PJ Tucker signed with the Rockets because taxes are less in Houston than they are in Toronto. This is true, but it doesn’t equate to $3M/YR. Another theory is that Tucker wanted to play with friends in Houston. That’s very possible and PJ also played college ball in Texas. My theory is that the Raptors giving up on him so early in his career left a bad taste in his mouth and drafting his future replacement probably rubbed some salt in the wound. I’m sure Tucker enjoyed playing with the Raptors in his brief stint last year, but he was coming from a Suns team that was tanking.
Before trading for Serge Ibaka last year it’s likely that Masai did his due diligence first. When the Raptors traded for Serge the Raptors made it known he wasn’t just a rental. Yes, the Raptors obtained his bird rights, but it’s not like they offered him the 5-year deal that those rights would have allowed. Since the Raptors gave up assets in a first round pick and Terrence Ross to acquire Ibaka’s services I would think Masai probably got an indication Serge had interest in re-signing with the Raptors. You don’t have to believe me, but news broke prior to free agency that Serge Ibaka had agreed on the principles of a new deal with the Raptors starting in the neighborhood of $20M/YR. Serge Ibaka officially agreed to a deal of $65M/3 years with the Raptors. And it so happens that Ibaka’s salary will be roughly $20M this year.
With PJ Tucker I would guess the Raptors did very little due diligence. Jared Sullinger wasn’t an asset and those two second-round picks didn’t have much value. When you aren’t giving up much value there is less concern on whether a player will re-sign or not. Plus, the Tucker deal wasn’t made until right near the end of the trade deadline so the Raptors might not have had time to figure out if Tucker was interested in re-signing. Officially, PJ Tucker said he was interested in re-signing with the Raptors heading into free agency, but what we don’t know is where the Raptors ranked on his list. It’s possible the Raptors were first on his list until Chris Paul got traded to Houston. We may never know the reason, but PJ Tucker is the one who got away and will surely be missed.