This NBA trade deadline was extremely eventful for Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors. Just minutes before the deadline, they acquired small forward P.J. Tucker from the Phoenix Suns. In return, Toronto sent reserve power forward Jared Sullinger to the Suns, along with its 2017 and 2018 second-round picks, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical:
Sources: Toronto is sending Phoenix its 2017 and 2018 second-round picks in the Tucker trade.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) February 23, 2017
Toronto Raptors Acquire P.J. Tucker from Suns
This addition really emphasizes the Raptors’ front office’s desperation to improve on the defensive end on the floor. Tucker is an extremely physical, 6’6″, 250-pound wing and a lockdown defender. Additionally, he’s not afraid to guard bigger players, which he has done many times in the past. He’s had success guarding larger small forwards like LeBron James, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony.
Originally drafted by the Raptors as a second-round pick in 2006, Tucker found a home in Phoenix with his physicality and hustle. In recent years, he has really expanded his offensive game. He is shooting a respectable 34 percent from three-point range this season.
Toronto Wants to Win Now
This trade highlights that the Raptors are in win-now mode, as Toronto gave up two draft picks to get Tucker. However, that does not mean that the Raptors are mortgaging their future. Both picks were second-rounders, and in the entire history of the Raptors franchise, the most successful second-round pick the team has had is Norman Powell (who is currently on the roster). It is rare that these selections bring back much value, so for a team that made the Eastern Conference Finals last year, it makes sense to give them up for a proven player. Toronto does not need another Pascal Siakam or Jakob Poeltl, two promising talents who need time to develop. The team’s future is more or less secure. Ujiri needed to do this to maximize the current crop of players.
As previously mentioned, Tucker is an elite defender, and the Raptors should not be content with losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. DeMarre Carroll was originally brought in to defend James. Now, the Raptors have another big, physical body that they can throw at the four-time MVP. Throw in Powell and Patrick Patterson, and Toronto now has four players capable of disrupting James, at the very least.
The Loss of Sullinger
The two draft picks were not the only thing that Toronto sacrificed for Tucker. In Sullinger, the Raptors gave up their key free-agent signing from the summer. Sullinger was thought to be a key piece for the team moving forward, but thanks to a plethora of injuries – including foot surgery in October – he has only appeared in 11 games this season. The moment that Serge Ibaka was acquired from the Orlando Magic, the writing was on the wall for Sullinger. He had become an excess, as Patterson, Ibaka, and Siakam are all capable of playing the power forward position. Sullinger was the odd-man out.
This is an excellent trade for the Raptors, who were big winners at the deadline. They will be a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference come playoff time.