Everyday P.J. Tucker is Hustling

Stephen Curry tries to put up a shot over P.J. Tucker during the first half of the NBA game at US Airways Center on April 5, 2013.
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
Posted: April 7, 2013

If you were to say someone is “tuckered out” it would mean that he or she is completely exhausted. Ironically – and not in an Alanis Morissette way – that’s how P.J. Tucker feels after most games.

That’s because the Suns’ forward exemplifies what every coach wants from his players. A guy who puts forth maximum effort every time his name is called and he checks into a game. He leaves it all out on the court even if it doesn’t always show in the box scores. He does the dirty work like guarding the opponent's best player, diving three rows deep into the stands to save a ball and tipping out rebounds to his teammates.

More often than not, this kind of play goes unrecognized. Done for the greater good by someone never expecting to have the spotlight. On Sunday night that changed as Tucker became the eleventh recipient of the Majerle Hustle Award prior to the Suns 95-92 loss at the hands of the New Orleans Hornets. An award that came with a glowing video tribute about P.J. from the man the award was named after, Ring of Honor member Dan Majerle. He joined such fan favorites as Bo Outlaw, Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa, to name a few, a winner of the award.

In a season with more lowlights than most would like, Tucker has shined bright. That’s just P.J., being P.J.

“For me it’s just love for the game more than anything,” Tucker said standing in front of his locker. “Playing on different teams, playing all the different places I’ve played, the consistent thing is I’m always vocal and working hard. I’m a show-first, act-second kind of guy. For me it’s about putting it all on the line.”

And putting it all on the line was exactly what Tucker did when he agreed to join the Suns last summer. Despite having a guaranteed contract from a team in Russia called Spartak St. Petersburg, he opted out of the deal for a chance to play in the NBA Summer League with Phoenix. It was a decision that paid big dividends.

From the first tip in Las Vegas it was evident that Tucker was the type of player the Suns would need as they rebuilt. The kind of guy who is grittier than sandpaper on bare skin and even more annoying than that to offensive players he is guarding. His reward for hustling was a return to the NBA. He signed a two-year deal with Phoenix in August after having played in six different countries since his last NBA stint in Toronto during his rookie season (2006-2007).

From the second he signed the deal it was clear Tucker wasn’t about being flashy and was just happy to contribute in any way he could. In a very small gathering in a tiny conference room on the second floor of US Airways Center, he explained that he was just grateful to Suns’ management for giving him another shot in the league. He did it all while wearing a white v-neck undershirt under a suit jacket. It was clear from that moment on that he was willing to get his hands dirty regardless of what may come of it.

“It’s a role,” Tucker said Sunday night of hustling and doing the little things. “Every team needs that. It’s an intangible you can’t teach. It’s just something you have to go out and do. It’s just an honor for me to win this award.”

For a team that has been looking for an identity and whose representatives have repeatedly said they want it to be a team known for being blue collar and having no excuses, the Suns need to look no further than Tucker for an example. If every player in the NBA played with his passion and fire, every single matchup would feel like Game 7 of the Finals.

This year, Tucker will have to settle for the large, shiny metal nine that is the Majerle Hustle Award over the Larry O’Brien trophy. But thanks to his hustle and passion this season, he probably will never have to worry about being “tuckered out” of the league ever again. It’s unlikely that coaches around the NBA could ever get tired of his effort.