When the Clippers traded Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington and Marcus Morris Sr., they gave away more than a few extra wing players. Gone are the chemistry guys, those players who can keep a locker room and a game together.
The glue guys.
Those are the players who do the small things on the court, such as diving for loose balls and pounding the glass for an offensive rebound. They are not necessarily stars, but role players who keep the game moving in the right direction and players connected on the court.
Before the trade, All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George relied on Batum and Covington nightly to make the right plays.
That job now largely belongs to P.J. Tucker, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound veteran forward who came to the Clippers from Philadelphia in the James Harden trade. Tucker is the guy who dives on the floor and camps in opponents’ faces on defense.
“That’s my only role. It’s what I do,” Tucker said. “It’s what I’ve been doing all my career – in Houston, Milwaukee, Philly – everywhere I’ve played. So, that’s what I’m known for, playing D, guarding one through five.”
Tucker, 38, said he settled into that role early in his 18-year professional basketball career, never seeking out the spotlight that follows stars. He most recently served in that role for the 76ers, where Coach Nick Nurse called him “a game-influencer, a game-changer.”
“I love my role. It’s fun. I enjoy it. I enjoy doing the dirty work. Getting 50/50 balls. I enjoy getting offensive rebounds, I enjoy going on the floor, getting guys open, setting screens. Doing all the work no one else wants to do,” Tucker said Sunday.
“There are only so many stars, only so many scorers. … so, I love my job.”
Tucker, however, isn’t crazy about the limited minutes he is seeing with the talent-laden Clippers. In five games, he is averaging just 14.4 minutes and played 13 minutes in the team’s 105-101 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday. He’s hoping to play more when the Clippers (3-6) travel to Denver on Tuesday night to take on the defending champion Nuggets (8-2).
“I went from 30 minutes (a game) starting to playing 10 minutes coming off the bench,” Tucker said. “It’s a huge adjustment for me. I probably have the most adjustment than anybody, but I’m a professional. I come in and do my job every night, do my job and leave it out there on the court in the time I get.”
George appreciates glue guys, such as Tucker. He knows that he’s not that guy and Coach Tyronn Lue knows that, too, which places more emphasis on role players.
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“You lose guys like RoCo and Nico, the guys were the glue guys for us, then you gotta understand that somebody’s got to fill that void of doing the dirty work, the mast work, getting the hustle points, the hustle plays,” George said. “Somebody’s got to go and provide that kick that they gave us.”
That somebody now is Tucker, a journeyman who started his career after being drafted by the Toronto Raptors in 2006. After one season, however, he was waived to make room for Luke Jackson. He spent the next five years playing overseas before returning to the NBA with the Phoenix Suns.
He returned to Toronto in 2017 and followed with stints in Milwaukee, where he averaged 31.3 minutes during the Bucks’ championship season, then Miami and Philadelphia and now the Clippers.
CLIPPERS AT NUGGETS
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Ball Arena, Denver
TV/radio: TNT, 570 AM