Where exactly will the winning Sixers need Tucker? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
PJ Tucker is not delusional.
To be sure, the 37-year-old is still considered vital to NBA teams with championship aspirations, and he laughs off any suggestion that he might adjust his playing style during the regular season for the sake of sanity. But Tucker knows one day he’ll retire — or at least not matter much on the court.
Speaking about the three-year, $33.2 million deal he signed with the Sixers this summer at a news conference Monday, Tucker was focused on the upcoming season and not playing until he was 40 years old.
“Honestly, it made sense,” he said. “For me, my career, the way things have gone and the process to get to this point…obviously my age and everyone talks about that, but it’s more about winning now, right? We want to win here right now and I wanted to be somewhere with a bunch of vets who want to win right now.
“Obviously the relationship I have with (president of basketball operations Daryl Morey) from my years in Houston. But I see an opportunity, you have other teams that are interested and someone has to jump in there a little bit more to make it happen and they did. They showed me that sacrifice, believed in me, so I showed love back and actually signed to come here.”
At this point, it’s clear the Sixers think adding Tucker will have a bigger impact than just not having to worry about him when they face the Heat again in the playoffs.
“The guy is a warrior,” said Georges Niang. “You saw it. He is someone who will run through a brick wall and run through the other team to help his team. And I think anytime you can add that kind of piece to your team, that’s very valuable.
“He won the championship. He knows what it takes to get to the top of the mountain. Anytime you can get that experience and toughness added to your team — along with the chemistry he had with the other guys on that team, playing with them — I think it’s a big boost for us. I am very happy to play with him.”
Jimmy Butler is now among those who may have to face Tucker in the postseason.
“PJ the Traitor” Butler told reporters with a smile at media day in Miami. “I tell him every day, but I love this guy.”
The Sixers value Tucker not only for his contributions in the box, but also for his contributions in the box — “I think his leadership is definitely needed,” head coach Doc Rivers said — but his work won’t just provide sharpshooting. a cocktail of insightful observations and words of wisdom from the sidelines. .
Where exactly will Tucker be needed on the floor? Tobias Harris said Monday that the small forward and power forward spots in Rivers’ system are “pretty much the same.” Regardless of the lineup he’s in, Tucker has historically enjoyed life in the corners and has been happy to let others initiate the offense. However, he is not much of a limited hitter.
When Bam Adebayo was sidelined midway through last season after thumb surgery, Tucker showed off his prowess with dribbling, short shots and separation. His 0.93 assist to usage ratio was a career high Glass cleaning. It’s often been smart for Tucker to let his stars take center stage, but pieces of his offensive game outside of the corner three could come in handy with James Harden on the bench and the Sixers playing a young Tyreese Maxey-De’Anthony Melton backcourt. .
Backup center also isn’t scary at all for the 6-foot-5 Tucker, who started at the starting five for the Maury Rockets in the 2020 playoffs. He has excellent balance and refuses to budge when bigger players test his strength.
Of course, Joel Embiid as a teammate works great for Tucker.
“We laugh because when I started working at the center a couple of years ago, he used to make jokes all the time — like, literally while we were playing,” Tucker said. “Seeing him grow over the years and become one of the best players in the league, I’m just happy now that I don’t have to go against him anymore, I don’t have to guard him. … He makes everyone around him great. You have somebody as dominant as him that I don’t think anyone in the league can defend one-on-1, it just forces everybody else to step up and be able to hold it.”
Based on Tucker’s track record at center, it would be surprising if the Sixers didn’t use lineups that included him in the top five at times. Rivers’ media comment on the image of the backup center confirmed that impression.
“This is the first year we haven’t had a 7-foot case as a backup,” Rivers said. “We had (Dwight Howard) and (Andre Drummond). But we have a collection of PJ guys, Paul Reid (Montrezl Harrell). We feel very comfortable in this role.
“And obviously with PJ’s age and Joel’s size and we want to make sure he’s healthy … we want to do better in games where some of these guys aren’t playing; we want to win these games. So with the collection, we feel very comfortable with what we have.”
Even if Tucker has a smooth year on the health front, the Sixers will be cautious about any potential issues. He underwent arthroscopy on his left knee this offseason, the Sixers announced minutes before media day. Tucker said he had the procedure six weeks ago and is doing “great.”
Just about any caveat before the playoffs, the Sixers’ practice with Tucker is likely to be smart. Whatever happens in years 2 and 3 of his contract, the Sixers have good reason to believe they need Tucker to win now.