Over the five years since he last was in the NBA, P.J. Tucker has seen players come into leagues in six other countries with an expectation for success before struggling to find their roles and departing with a myopic view of their failures.
Tucker knows it all too well because that was his 2006-07 experience with Toronto, which included 17 appearances, D-League duty and a March waiver that started his circuitous path back to the NBA.
The time and experiences gave Tucker a greater maturity that led to a return to the NBA with the Suns, who will sign the burly, versatile forward to a two-year contract with partial guarantees on the first year.
To realize his dream of returning to the NBA, Tucker is taking less than half of the salary he would have made overseas to join the Suns at potentially $762,195 for the first season.
"It's been a long, grueling journey, but it's fulfilling," Tucker, 27, said. "I was so resentful in Toronto because I wasn't playing much. I was throwing fits. I was so young-minded. I didn't get the big picture or that it's a business. You have to understand your role on a team. You see kids come after you and do the same thing. So many never play and say they got screwed by the GM or coach. When you can be real with yourself and understand why, that's really when it comes to life."
Tucker's entry into the NBA was no sure thing as a No. 35 pick in 2006 because second-round draft picks do not get the guaranteed contracts that first-round picks do. Since he was waived, the 6-foot-6, 224-pound forward has been a Most Valuable Player in Israel, a scoring champ in the Ukraine and the MVP of this year's German League finals. He also played in Italy, Puerto Rico and Greece, passing on NBA training-camp invitations to cement his role with European clubs that paid him well and supplied a home and a driver or car.
Former Suns forward Casey Jacobsen has starred for the past six seasons in Germany, where he saw American players come and go because they could not adjust to veteran teams.
"Of all my teammates that I've had, P.J. seamlessly integrated himself into the lineup and did so by doing all the little things and then eventually became the star of the team," said Jacobsen, who was a Brose Baskets Bamberg road roommate with Tucker. "Ten games into the season, it was clear that P.J. was our best player. He came to play every game or practice. The thing that I like most about him is he doesn't require you to run plays for him. He doesn't yell, 'Get me the ball.' He just found a way to be efficient and productive. Those are the kind of teammates that don't come along very often. What P.J. can do and the attitude he has is abnormal."
Tucker has known Suns General Manager Lance Blanks, a fellow Texas Longhorn, for several years and heard of Suns Director of Player Personnel John Treloar's interest over the past year. He played on the Suns' summer-league team, where he averaged 5.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game and showed his vocal, competitive side.
Tucker is not being added for his stats, although he averaged 16 points for Brose. He can guard different positions, gives all-out effort and has the strength to move bodies.
"I love P.J." Suns summer coach Dan Majerle said. "He's right after my own heart. That guy plays extremely hard. He does everything you ask of him."
Tucker's European journeys enriched him and his bank account. His Ukrainian owner walked into a pregame locker room with a bag of cash and told the players they would get $10,000 each if they won. They rolled.
Tucker's goal was not just to get back to the NBA. The goal is to make an impact in the NBA.
"When was in Toronto, I wasn't half the player I am now," Tucker said.
"First and foremost, I'm going to help the young guys and always be a positive voice in the locker room. I look at myself as a defensive player first but I can rebound and handle the ball.
"I just stick my neck out and play hard. I never let anyone outwork me."
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