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Breaking Down the P.J. Tucker–Raptors Trade

Toronto loads up on versatility, and the Suns continue stockpiling assets

(AP Images/Ringer illustration)
(AP Images/Ringer illustration)

The Deal

According to reports, the Toronto Raptors will receive P.J. Tucker from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Jared Sullinger and two second-round picks.

The GM Who Approves of This the Most

I don’t have any sources here, but I’m willing to confirm it anyway: The BioSteel Centre (the Raptors’ practice facility) has been projecting this video on the walls for the past 12 hours.

The best thing you can say about Masai Ujiri is that he listens. He cares. He does right by his players, and, you know, the Raptors might be fine.

The Winner

P.J. Tucker, who gets a chance at the redemptive arc that few even knew he needed. The once-and-future Raptor was taken by the franchise in the second round of the 2006 draft, the same one in which Toronto used its no. 1 overall pick on Andrea Bargnani, who stalled the Raptors’ future to a dead stop, then decimated the Knicks’ future seven years later in the worst trade in Knickerbocker history. Bargnani bringing three picks — one first-rounder, two second-rounders — to Toronto salvages his Raptors legacy, but I think Tucker has a chance to be the team’s most important 2006 draft pick if Toronto makes it to the 2017 Finals.

What does Tucker bring to the Raptors? In mind, body, and spirit, he is a Chuck Hayesian no-stats all-star on the perimeter, filling in gaps and playing thankless defense. He offers the quickly modernizing Raptors more lineup versatility — and hopefully everything he brought the Suns back in 2012–13. In a seven-game series, when teams essentially have their opponents figured out, finding new ways to throw a curveball becomes paramount. Tucker slides in as another guy who can play the 4 in small-ball lineups. His 3-point percentages may have regressed since his career-high 38.7 percent mark in 2013–14, but he is still a willing shooter, as 38.5 percent of his field goals this season have come from long range. In Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, and Tucker, the Raptors suddenly have a quartet of versatile 3-and-D frontcourt players to move in and out of their lineups. It’s not the sexiest trade, but the Raptors already made their big move — Ujiri just needed to make sure he had reinforcements.

The Caveat

Hmm. How much does it cost to ship more than 2,000 pairs of rare sneakers internationally?

The Suns were probably happy to find a playoff contender that would take one of their longest-tenured players, and the Raptors have little downside in making this move. Toronto may have believed in Sullinger as its starting power forward before the season, but Sully’s already-questionable conditioning took a massive hit with his broken foot, and he just didn’t look like an NBA-caliber power forward in his limited time on the court this season. The team is firmly in win-now mode, so the 2017 and 2018 second-rounders it’s giving up are expendable. Even if Tucker is the Ruben Patterson of LeBron Stoppers, this looks like a win-win trade.