Oh what could have been

North Bay Nugget - - DRIVING - Mike Gan­ter

the ar­rival of P.J. tucker and serge Ibaka a year ago felt like the start of the next step for the toronto rap­tors.

more ex­pe­ri­ence, more tough­ness and more three-point shoot­ing to a team that was al­ready among the elite in the east cer­tainly sounded like a can’t-miss com­bi­na­tion.

and maybe it would have been had a key in­jury at the worst pos­si­ble time to Kyle Lowry not got in the way of those new pieces mesh­ing with the likes of demar derozan and Lowry and Jonas valan­ci­u­nas.

but the fact of the mat­ter is that next step never re­ally took place with Lowry miss­ing 20 of the 24 games tucker and Ibaka had to get pre­pared for the play­offs with a new team. and the hous­ton rock­ets made sure it never would, at least not with tucker’s in­volve­ment, when they came con­tract in hand at the veteran 3-and-d guy sign­ing the 32-year-old for­ward to a fouryear $32-mil­lion deal.

the rap­tors, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, of­fered tucker three years, $33-mil­lion but tucker chose re­turn­ing home to texas and play­ing with his good friend Chris Paul in hous­ton over that de­spite toronto’s of­fer be­ing more lu­cra­tive.

tucker played 24 reg­u­lar sea­son games and 10 play­off games in toronto, the first play­off ex­pe­ri­ence of his nba ca­reer. he fit in well with the rap­tors with his phys­i­cal­ity and three-point game (he shot 40 per cent from dis­tance in the 24 reg­u­lar sea­son games and 32 per cent from three in the play­offs) that were both wel­come ad­di­tions to a team in need of both.

had he stayed he likely would have flour­ished even more with the new ball-mov­ing rap­tors who chuck up threes with as much reg­u­lar­ity as any team in the nba not named hous­ton.

In­stead he lined up op­po­site his old team­mates tues­day night in the first of two meet­ings be­tween the rock­ets and rap­tors this sea­son.

tucker has brought to hous­ton ex­actly what he did to toronto, a ver­sa­tile de­fender who can score from the out­side. he, along with Luc mbah a moute have taken hous­ton’s sec­ond unit to new heights ac­cord­ing to rap­tors head coach dwane Casey.

“the sec­ond unit con­sists of a de­fen­sive, switch­ing team that they’ve put to­gether that is very tough-minded,” Casey said. “they are tough-minded de­fen­sive guys, they have the abil­ity to switch, they’re two-way guys that also have the abil­ity to shoot the three. they’ve kind of bol­stered their sec­ond unit with de­fen­sive play­ers and tough-minded guys.”

Casey, while re­luc­tant to see tucker on the other side, sees the po­ten­tial to de­velop an­other tucker of their own, and maybe one who can be even a lit­tle bit bet­ter than tucker with some sea­son­ing.

“We feel like og is go­ing to be that guy in time, no ques­tion about it, a bet­ter ver­sion of P.J. in time but right now P.J. has the ex­pe­ri­ence fac­tor over og,” Casey said. “It’s tough, we lost a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence last year but our young guys are get­ting it now, they’re learn­ing on the fly and they’re do­ing a good job. they’re putting us in a po­si­tion to win, we just got to get over the hump and play through some of their mis­takes, which we knew go­ing into the sea­son they were go­ing to make.”

anunoby, a raw rookie, al­ready has a lot of the same traits that Casey loved so much in tucker.

“the tough­ness fac­tor, the size fac­tor, he’s the same size, he’s maybe a lit­tle bit big­ger than P.J. but the phys­i­cal­ity part of it, he’s just like P.J. from that stand­point,” Casey said. “and he has no fear, the young fella has no fear and that’s what we love about him, that he has no fear.”

demar derozan knew ex­actly what the rap­tors were get­ting when ma­sai ujiri dealt Jared sullinger and two sec­ond round picks to Phoenix to get tucker last Fe­bru­ary. the tucker he re­called hound­ing him on every pos­ses­sion and phys­i­cally man-han­dling him was the same tucker he got to play with for those 34 games of reg­u­larsea­son and post-sea­son play a year ago. derozan loved every minute of that, but he’s also look­ing for­ward to lock­ing horns with one of the most re­spected de­fend­ers in the game.

“It’s gonna be fun, go­ing against a com­peti­tor like that,” derozan said.

Left un­said was how much fun it would have been play­ing with him for an­other year, or two or three.

but like his coach, derozan says he be­lieves the rap­tors are in the process of de­vel­op­ing peo­ple who can even­tu­ally do for them what tucker did.

“It’s def­i­nitely a work in progress but, you know, we got the pieces that’s ca­pa­ble of be­ing a P.J. but it’s hard when you get an es­tab­lished guy like P.J., be­ing in the league so long, he gained that rep­u­ta­tion over time,” derozan said. “It’s hard to just pick up and find an­other P.J. so quick but I def­i­nitely think we’ve got play­ers in po­si­tion to be a P.j.type of player.

mike.gan­ter@sun­media.ca

Ja­son Miller/getty im­ages

Then-toronto Rap­tor P.J. Tucker watches from the bench dur­ing the final min­utes of game 2 of the Rap­tors’ East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nal against the Cleve­land Cav­a­liers on May 3.

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