Oh what could have been

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - SPORTS - 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


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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