The NBA trade deadline is a nerve-wracking time of year for front office personnel looking to improve their respective rosters, media members trying to break the latest news to the public and, perhaps most of all, the players.
Phoenix Suns defensive-minded forward P.J. Tucker fell in line with the narrative due to a traumatic missed phone call from general manager Ryan McDonough approximately 24 hours before the Feb. 20 deadline.
In an interview with Suns.com’s Greg Esposito, McDonough explained the mix-up as follows:
I called P.J. and it went to voicemail. I didn’t leave a message. I was just about to text him and ask him to call me back. P.J. called me back—it was about one o’clock [Wednesday] afternoon, so we were about 24 hours before the deadline—and I noticed P.J. was a little short of breath, breathing a little heavy. Then the light went on in my head. I said ‘P.J., we’re not trading you. That’s not what this call’s about.’ Then he said, ‘Thank goodness, man. I love it here. I was so nervous.’
As it turns out, McDonough was calling Tucker to inform him he had been fined $5,000 by the league for flopping.
Learning that some cash was about to leave his bank account probably wouldn’t make him all too happy under normal circumstances, but Tucker was likely pleased to receive that news instead of hearing he had been dealt elsewhere.
Tucker expressed his relief via Twitter in response to Suns broadcaster and former player Eddie Johnson:
Gotta love it.. A lil more after the deadline lol RT @Jumpshot8: This Phoenix weather is not fair. 80. Ummmm.— PJ Tucker (@PJTUCKER17) February 20, 2014
Tucker’s story echoes an article written by Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding about how deadline day affects the league’s players. His example was former Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Blake—who was traded to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for seldom-used role players Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks.
Much like Tucker, Blake loved his situation—per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin—and was saddened by the news he’d be suiting up elsewhere:
Steve Blake: "I've loved my time. I've loved playing for Coach D'Antoni. The freedom he gave me as a player ... I'm totally grateful"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) February 20, 2014
Often times it’s difficult to humanize athletes making millions of dollars as more than just “part of the team.” Yes, they are assets that could potentially be dealt at any time, but they’re still human beings who may love the comfort level of their surroundings.
Ultimately, McDonough decided against making a move at the deadline because the organization loves the team chemistry and didn’t want to risk losing it moving forward. He had this to say, per Esposito's interview:
They’re happy for (teammates’) success. That’s special, and it’s relatively rare in pro sports, I think. So we didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that. We feel like the guys truly do like each other and they’ve kind of bought in for a common goal. I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve had the success we’ve had so far.
Tucker has been a gigantic part of the upstart Suns’ winning ways.
He’s started all 53 games for Phoenix in 2013-14, and he’s posting career-high averages of 9.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game. The 28-year-old has also notched a career-high 39.8 percent shooting clip from three-point range, which includes a scorching-hot 50 percent mark from the left baseline, according to NBA.com/stats.
Perhaps Tucker should have known that the front office values his contributions on and off the court enough to keep him on board, but that’s the funny thing about professional sports—you just never know.
Now the Suns starter can get back to business knowing he’ll be staying put for a 2014 playoff run and for the foreseeable future.