Report: Raptors interested in P.J. Tucker

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The Toronto Raptors are one of several teams expressing interest in Phoenix Suns wing P.J. Tucker, according to a report from Marc Stein of ESPN.

Before anyone gets too excited, Stein follows by saying that the expectation is that the Suns will seek a “nice pick” as a return. The Suns are in the middle of a disastrous season, but even with 2015-16 lost, they may see enough value in keeping Tucker, a well-liked team-first player, around to help rehabilitate the organizational culture if an offer doesn’t move the needle enough for them.

One of the Raptors’ four first-round picks in the next two drafts would likely be enough to entice them, though salary matching poses a bit of a problem. Tucker earns $5.5 million this season (and $5.3 million next year), meaning the Raptors would have to send out either Patrick Patterson or James Johnson and a second piece (Luis Scola, Delon Wright, or Lucas Nogueira) to make the math work. Even if Johnson’s ankle injury isn’t serious, the second option might be reasonable, but flipping Patterson and a pick for Tucker is just shifting a hole from one place to another.

On fit and role alone, Tucker would be a nice addition if a deal doesn’t take anything from the rotation. A 2006 second-round pick of the Raptors, he honed his game overseas before finding a home in Phoenix in 2012. The Raptors were said to be in on the one that got away in 2014, but Tucker re-upped in the desert on a three-year pact. Since his return stateside, he’s established himself as a valuable multi-position defender and would bring another element of toughness and physicality on that side of the ball. He’s also a plus-rebounder for a wing.

Offensively, he doesn’t offer a lot more than shooting from the corners – he’s worked his way to a 35.6-percent career mark from outside and is even better on the short triple.

PJ Tucker

With the Raptors out Johnson and DeMarre Carroll right now, Tucker would provide immediate help on the wing. When Carroll returns, he’d have value as a versatile bench piece, capable of backing up the three and playing power forward in smaller looks. Essentially, he’d be brought in to upgrade Johnson’s rotation spot. Tucker’s ability to play some four could also open up other trade options, as Patterson’s salary is the team’s most useful cash-matching piece for a bigger deal. Tucker wouldn’t sacrifice much offseason flexibility, as only $1.5 million of his deal is guaranteed, making the 30-year-old a highly movable asset or low-cost stretch provision option.

Tucker is averaging 6.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.2 steals on the season while shooting 40.5 percent from the floor and 35.1 percent on threes. That’s modest production that you could reasonably balk at surrendering a pick for, but there aren’t exactly a lot of sellers right now, so options are limited.

The Raptors’ interest in Tucker is understandable. Given the team’s limited salary-matching assets, however, and the growing feeling that they should make an aggressive move with their surplus picks, Tucker seems like a potential near-deadline move. The Raptors probably only have the pieces to make one deal, or maybe two smaller ones, and so Tucker may be an option to circle back to if a bigger opportunity doesn’t manifest itself. If Tucker were to be the lone deadline haul, he’d represent an upgrade to the rotation so long as it doesn’t cost Patterson, and that’s certainly better than holding steady.

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