Tucker Excited To Be Back In Toronto

Ready To Bring Determination & Grit To Lineup

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

After a whirlwind 36 hours, P.J. Tucker was still smiling, but very much ready to sleep. The newest Raptors player, instrumental in a 107-97 victory against the Boston Celtics, arrived in Toronto on zero sleep following the news that he had been traded. He played 29 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter in a comeback win. The victory helped to push back to fatigue a while longer.

A week after acquiring Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Terrence Ross and a future first-round pick, the Raptors made another move to close out the trade deadline, bringing Tucker back to Toronto 10 years after the team had drafted him. Tucker comes to Toronto from Phoenix where he had spent the previous five seasons and averaged 7.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 28.5 minutes per contest in 57 games this season. 

“It was pretty crazy,” Tucker said. “It was 1 o’clock [in Phoenix on Thursday and the deadline passed], was looking at my phone, nothing’s happening so I had a shower. Then all my team came in the shower, ‘you’re going home’ and I’m ‘Raleigh?’ They were like, ‘Nah, your old team.”

It has been a journey for Tucker since being selected 35th overall by Toronto in 2006. After a season with the Raptors, Tucker ended up overseas,  winning a league title and league MVP with Hapoel Holon in the Israeli Premier League before stops in Germany, Puerto Rico and Ukraine before returning to the NBA with the Suns. In five seasons with Phoenix, Tucker earned a reputation for being a fierce defender.

That defence was on display down the stretch on Friday. Despite not getting any practice time with new teammates, Tucker’s defensive awareness and versatility helped the Raptors come back from a 17-point first-half deficit against the Celtics.

“I love his toughness,” Masai Ujiri said. “He can defend. He can defend multiple positions. He can shoot the corner three. Toughness. We needed to become a tougher team and I think this helps us. Grit, just play ball.”

After scoring nine points and grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds in his first game with the team, Tucker revealed that he hadn’t even known he was going to play on Friday night. With a delayed flight on Thursday night, he didn’t arrive in Toronto until 9:30 A.M.  On Friday then had a full day of meetings until game time.

“I was really excited to get here,” Tucker said. “Once I got here, the plan was not to play. But once you see guys, and coach called me in during shoot-around and was like, ‘You playing?’ I couldn’t look at everyone and be like, ‘I’m not playing.’ I haven’t missed a game in a long time, so I wasn’t planning on missing today.”

A lot has changed since Tucker was first drafted by the Raptors in 2006. For the city, and for Tucker himself.

“You drive throughout the city and it’s like ‘Man it’s so different but the same old place,” Tucker said of his return. “It was a long time coming.”

Saying he doesn’t believe in adjustment periods or needing much time to get used to his new team, Tucker also expressed disbelief over learning he was the eldest player on the roster. 

“I’m already comfortable right now,” Tucker said. “It doesn’t take me long. I get in there and mix it up, talk to guys and get on the same page and then on the court it just comes together, it’s not something you talk about it’s just something you do.”

Coming to a new team midway through the season can be difficult. With plenty to learn and only 24 games remaining in the regular season, Tucker is already aware of what the team needs from him and what his role will be. 

“Just looking to add on, man,” Tucker said. “It’s already a great team with great personnel. The guys plays well together, they mesh well. I’m just looking to add whatever they need - different nights, different stories, different teams - there’s going to be different things we need to win games and I’m that guy,  a utility guy who comes in and does whatever you need to get a win that night and then get ready for the next one.”

Although there is still plenty to learn about his new teammates, Tucker already saw plenty to be optimistic about in his 29 minutes on Friday. Particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

“We’ve got so many weapons and so many possibilities,” he said. “Defensively, I think we can really wreak havoc. That last lineup we had [to close out the game], and then you throw Kyle [Lowry] in there, we can really do some things and be special. We haven’t practised. I didn’t shoot-around. I didn’t do anything. To see the chemistry we had, me and Serge [Ibaka] didn’t know any plays. We were just kind of playing. It was a feel. We were working through it and talking.”

Getting a win against a division rival and the second-seeded Boston Celtics was big for Toronto. Still, Tucker said he wasn’t concerned with who the opponent was going to be.

“We could have played Boys and Girls Club and I would have been excited,” he said. “For them to bring me back here, for me, is big. I wanted to embrace the fans, embrace the whole process of me being back here, and make sure it’s special tonight, of me giving my all. For me it didn’t matter who we played tonight.”

6IX FACTS ABOUT P.J. TUCKER

- Full name is Anthony Leon Tucker, Jr. His father nicknamed him P.J., standing for Pops Junior, after he was born.

- Was named the No. 1 sneakerhead in the NBA by SLAM Magazine this past summer and was also featured in a New York Times article where it was revealed that much of his 2,000-pair collection is stashed in a climate-controlled warehouse in North Carolina.

- If he is having a bad first half, he will change his shoes at halftime.

- Has spent time playing professionally in Israel, can speak Hebrew, and lists Tel Aviv as his favourite travel destination.

- His family moved to Frankfurt, Germany shortly after his birth while his father served in the Army.

- Is a four-time recipient of the Dan Majerle Hustle Award, given to the Phoenix Suns player who most personified the hustle and determination that Majerle displayed as a player with the Suns. Tucker won the award from 2013-2016.