The Raptors on-court defensive play calling has gone somewhat silent in Toronto this season with the veteran Luis Scola helping out in Brooklyn and backup center Bismack Biyombo anchoring the Magic’s defense and it shows. There’s a lack of proven depth, but that missing veteran voice could be on an imploding Suns team that should be on everyone’s NBA trade deadline radar.
“P.J. Tucker has been in the headlines recently, with his name surfacing in trade rumors and Jared Dudley tweeting about his lockdown defense,” reports Basketball Insiders Michael Scotto.
Suns coach Earl Watson, “It’s all on intensity, passion, toughness and a lot of heart. He plays with that every time he touches the court. He’s one of our best players. To me, he’s the most underrated defender in our league, especially on isolations. I think our isolation defense kind of speaks for itself because of him.”
The 31-year-old Tucker is making trade rumor headlines today, but the Suns will be rebuilding, again, and there are other players that could help a team like Toronto as well.
Everyone knew the Raptors got real young real fast in the event anyone in the rotation was hurt. At the beginning of the year President Masai Ujiri had hung onto prospect Bruno Caboclo, injured sophomore Delon Wright, the very promising sophomore Norman Powell and added three rookies in Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. The only “old guys” in Toronto are Kyle Lowry (30) and DeMarre Carroll (30).
The Raptors started out hot, going 22-8 to start the season, and the current 8-12 collapse coincides perfectly with a knee injury to their best big man defender Patrick Patterson who missed 10 of those games and has been hobbled until very recently in his return. Then as Patterson gets his legs back under him, DeMar DeRozan tweaks an ankle and the slide gets worse.
A team that has counted on mediocre defense and unbelievable offense this season has shown they have no one to replace either of these two players for even brief periods. Not even Kyle Lowry putting up +30 points a night can compensate.
It’s not like Ujiri hasn’t been aware of the situation. Reports of him going hard after Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka have been out there since July and right up to now, but the price has been unpalatable for the risk of acquiring a player that could walk away as a free agent in the summer.
Adding another “star player” might not be necessary either. A team that won 56-games last season and was on track to exceed that before Patterson was hurt is more in need of a tweak than a homerun.
The Suns thought they’d be better than this or they wouldn’t have signed the now 34-year-old Tyson Chandler to a 4-year $52 million deal in July 2015, but while that was a big number then, $13 million a year now is nothing special. Tyson has lived up to expectations too. The Suns might suck, but he doesn’t as one the best rebounders in the NBA (4th) collecting 22.9 percent of the available boards (better than Jonas Valanciunas at 8th).
Tyson is a veteran leader, a guiding voice on defense, and someone who has the respect of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. If Ujiri could pry the combination of Tucker and Chandler out of Phoenix, his team’s shoddy defense would have received a major upgrade.
However, the Suns aren’t going to part with these players for nothing.
The Timberwolves offered Shabazz Muhammad for Tucker, a league source told Basketball Insiders.
The Raptors have assets the Suns should be interested in, young players, picks and contracts that haven’t fulfilled their promise to make the trade math work. There is a deal to be made here if Ujiri wants to make it and it will almost undoubtedly be less painful than trying to pry Ibaka out of Orlando (although he’ll probably keep trying on that front).