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With veteran defensive ace PJ Tucker months from free agency and still without a contract extension, it’s only natural for the Houston Rockets to consider trading him before this season’s March 25 trade deadline, rather than risk Tucker leaving for no compensation in the offseason.
But even though the Rockets (11-17) have lost seven straight games and clearly aren’t a title contender this season, that doesn’t mean they’re ready for an all-out rebuild. (The fact that Oklahoma City has the right to swap Houston’s first-round draft pick in 2021 for Miami’s choice also minimizes any incentive for the Rockets to pursue a so-called tank.)
Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets are not placing a high priority on future draft considerations in their trade talks involving Tucker. “Houston wants back not [draft] picks, but a player that they can plug back into their lineup,” Woj said in a television appearance late Saturday.
Woj identified the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, as among many teams with interest in Tucker. “There’s a lot of interest among contenders,” said Wojnarowski, who believes it could be a “seller’s market” at the trade deadline. That’s because the NBA’s new play-in tournament for the final two playoff spots in each conference could incentivize more teams to make a postseason push.
Now 35 years old, Tucker is averaging 4.7 points and 4.6 rebounds in 30.0 minutes per game this season. However, as his teammates and coaches recently explained, his value is tough to capture in basic statistics. For starters, Tucker is a clear veteran leader in Houston’s locker room, as shown by the testimonials of those consistently around him.
Moreover, the Rockets have derived added benefits from Tucker’s extreme durability and toughness. Dating to 2012-13, the 6-foot-5 forward has played in the most games of any NBA player on any team. Those are among the many reasons why Houston GM Rafael Stone likely has a high asking price for Tucker, even at 35 and in a contract year.