Players usually say they try to drown out the media and all the respective trade rumors that come over the course of a season. In the case of PJ Tucker, however, it not only looked as though he heard some, but also came out with the hunger to prove his worth against the Knicks on Saturday night.
Tucker's name has been floated around as a trade possibility, especially as New York looks for something to help them right the ship this season. Certainly looking as though he hit the Garden hardwood with a purpose, Tucker put on a display and showed the Knicks what they've been missing.
Tucker came out like a hound dog, pestering Carmelo Anthony, especially as the Suns made their run in the second quarter. Well known for his defensive prowess, Tucker seemed to take pride in seeing the frustration on Anthony's face. As Tucker clamped down on defense and constantly barked at Anthony to disrupt his offensive rhythm, the Knicks' star could be found chatting up the referees throughout the quarter. Tucker was able to get into his head.
But that's not all the Knicks saw from the opposing swingman. As Phoenix outscored the Knicks by nine points in that key quarter, Tucker (averaging 6.4 points on the season) hit two daggers from deep, en route to scoring nine points of his own. Tucker may not be known for his offense, but he stepped up to knock down very timely buckets. Such momentum points can prove to be so clutch. As the Knicks look to shore up their varied holes, defense isn't the only thing Tucker provides. The team has desperately needed Courtney Lee to hit shots from long range in similar fashion. He hasn't been the most consistent (or timely) performer.
The cherry on top of Tucker's efforts was the way he taunted Anthony, imitating the forward's "3 to the dome" gesture with each 3-point shot he made. He boasted a team-high plus-8 in his team's victory.
Some may consider Tucker a dirty player, but he's very effective. Looking across the league at the various contenders, most teams employ a similar player. He's the type of guy that players around the league love to hate. Over his Knicks tenure, Anthony has praised players like Joakim Noah, Sasha Vujacic, and (now ex-Knick) Robin Lopez in similar fashion upon them donning orange and blue. Could Tucker be next?
The Suns are reportedly asking for a future first rounder in exchange for Tucker's services. If the Knicks are truly committed to competing this season, that's not an unreasonable price to pay. Perhaps they could even mandate protection on a first in 2019. Draft picks are easily purchased and/or acquired if need be as the respective draft approaches. The Knicks could get back in that market rather seamlessly. Phoenix may ask for a player like Kyle O'Quinn in exchange, but if the Knicks can push them to take Lance Thomas instead, it should be considered a no-brainer, even with the pick.
New York saw what Tucker has the potential to do. He can change the momentum of a game on both ends of the floor. It doesn't hurt that Jeff Hornacek knows him quite well. Someone who's not afraid to defend an opposing team's best player, he demonstrated on Saturday why he could fill a huge void for New York.