The Houston Rockets are in the midst of a massive freefall. After hitting a home run with the acquisition of Christian Wood, the Rockets appeared to have a solid core with John Wall and Victor Oladipo both looking good coming back from devastating injuries. Wood was even the frontrunner for the Most Improved Player award before everything came to a crashing halt.
A gruesome ankle injury has forced Wood to miss the last 14 games for Houston, who has not won since. The Rockets are not only losing games, but are getting absolutely destroyed as well. Wall, Oladipo and Eric Gordon all continue to be in and out of the lineup, but they are losing games by nearly 20 points on average. They may have hit rock bottom with a 49-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the third-worst defeat in franchise history.
Following Thursday night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings, the Rockets are clearly turning their focus to the 2021-22 season. And, with the trade deadline now less than two weeks away there could be many players on their way out of Houston. Many have had their eyes on Oladipo, but the organization’s most sought-after trade piece has apparently played his final game in Houston.
PJ Tucker and the Rockets agreed he will no longer be with the team anymore and are working to find a resolution, coach Stephen Silas says tonight.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 12, 2021
You won’t find PJ Tucker on any past All-Star teams. He hasn’t won a gold medal. He is not going to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Tucker is not the kind of player that chases numbers — he is neither a scoring machine nor a monster on the glass.
Still, he is a gritty defender that gives maximum effort, understands his role and could certainly help a team in their championship push.
Tucker’s contributions are rarely seen in the box score or played on highlight reels. But his tenacious defense and toughness are exactly what contending teams are seeking. For the teams that aren’t looking to make a major splash, he is the perfect complementary player that could provide real value in the playoffs. Whatever the team needs, Tucker is willing to oblige and will not stop until he is successful.
It might be easier to list the teams that Tucker would NOT help. Amid all of the trade rumors, nearly half of the teams in the league have expressed interest in acquiring the nine-year veteran. A luxury for the top-tier teams in each conference, his value is even greater to those teams in the tier below. Three teams, in particular, would seem to benefit the most with Tucker’s added presence.
Tucker thrived in Houston with James Harden running the offense. Moving him just up the road to Dallas would put him in a familiar situation where he could flourish once again. Luka Doncic is essentially Harden without the beard, as the two superstars share a very similar playing style — and Tucker knows exactly where to be on offense.
While Tucker is not the answer to all that ails the Mavericks, he can definitely help them in one of their greatest weaknesses. Heading into the All-Star break, Dallas was the second-worst team in the league in corner three-point shooting. Tucker, meanwhile, has led the league in corner threes in each of the last three seasons. With so much attention on Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, he will have plenty of open looks.
Dallas could also use another tough-nosed defender, as that was another area they tried to address in the offseason by trading for Josh Richardson. While Rick Carlisle has capable defenders on the wing, they sorely lack the toughness element that so many aspiring championship teams possess.
Boston has struggled in many areas this season, but Tucker would be a wonderful addition for Brad Stevens. The defensive upgrade is noteworthy, but he can also provide floor spacing when their three primary ball handlers break down the defense. Should they opt to play small against teams with significant size like the Philadelphia 76ers, it would likely pull Joel Embiid or any other paint-stalwart away from the basket on the defensive end.
The Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson frontcourt hasn’t quite panned out like Stevens and Danny Ainge envisioned it would. Neither of these big men has been highly productive alongside one another, while neither provides the defensive force required of the postseason. Their depth has been a problem all year, so simply adding Tucker to the rotation would alleviate much of that.
Late game situations have also haunted the Celtics this season — getting defensive stops late in the clock will be key for their plan to solidify a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. Opposing offenses would have a difficult time scoring if Boston is able to have Tucker, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown all on the floor at the same time. Like Smart, Tucker will provide much of the same intensity, grit, and energy that Boston has seemingly lacked this season.
Portland Trail Blazers
One of the darling teams from this past offseason was Portland, which has been on a roller-coaster ride this year. It’s an all-too-familiar feeling for the Trail Blazers, who once again find themselves dealing with injuries. Both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic have missed the majority of the season while Zach Collins is set to miss the entire 2020-21 campaign.
With Carmelo Anthony returning and Enes Kanter making his way back to Portland, the focus for this team was defense. They acquired Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr to improve on their defense on the perimeter but, once again, it has proven arguably their biggest weakness. The two have been solid, but neither has provided the defensive presence many thought they would.
Enter Tucker. In likely the perfect situation, Tucker wouldn’t turn Portland’s defense around entirely, but he would improve it significantly. Further, his insertion shouldn’t disrupt the offense; he doesn’t need to dominate the ball to be effective, but can knock down the open three and should prove a useful outlet later in the season when teams decide to double McCollum or Damian Lillard. Only 17 percent of their three-point attempts come from the corner, an area where Tucker excels, while the threat of him open in the corner should allow guys like Nurkic and Kanter to feast in the paint.
What the Trail Blazers need is something they have never had: someone that can guard the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Devin Booker, etc. The elite wing players in the league have always given them problems and crushed them in big games; Tucker could prove to be the final piece of the puzzle that pushes Portland over the top.
Three other teams fighting for playoff position could really use Tucker. The Denver Nuggets sorely lack a player like Tucker that could match up against the superstars in the Western Conference like James, Anthony Davis, Leonard, etc. The New Orleans Pelicans could really use any upgrade on defense, as they rank as one of the worst units in the league, while the fit would also provide space for Zion Williamson to operate inside.
The Miami HEAT are another fringe team that would figure to be in play for the former second-round pick. He would be the ideal fit next to Jimmy Butler and would provide them with a player that could actually defend the East’s elite weapons like Brown, Tatum, Harden, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
With no end to Houston’s freefall insight, it’s only a matter of time before the veteran-Tucker finds his new home. Wherever he ends up, Tucker should go a long way in helping his new squad push for a championship.