Preview: Suns at Chicago Bulls, 5:30 p.m., FOX Sports Arizona
After a relatively calm trade deadline day — compared with the two previous deadlines — the Suns enter the final 25 games of the regular season with a clear focus on continuing to develop their young talent for the long haul.
The Suns (18-39) were unable to find a taker for reserve guard Brandon Knight, and their most significant transaction at Thursday’s deadline was to ship forward P.J. Tucker to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Jared Sullinger and a pair of second-round draft picks.
That qualifies as tame compared with the previous two deadlines — when the likes of Markieff Morris, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas were dealt away in deals that significantly altered the team’s direction.
Tucker was a hard-nosed defensive stalwart, a leader in the locker room and popular with the fans, but with an expiring contract and T.J. Warren supplanting him as the starting small forward, he was deemed expendable. The Raptors clearly valued his defensive chops as they gear up for the postseason grind, which will be a first for Tucker.
But even with an opportunity to play for higher stakes, Tucker was emotional about leaving the franchise that gave him a chance after five seasons in Europe.
“Phoenix has changed my life.” – P.J. Tucker https://t.co/Wo4D3pFZH6
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) February 24, 2017
“I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a tough day for me,” Tucker said Thursday. “I dropped some tears. Phoenix changed my life. All the people here, all the fans, I couldn’t ask for a better place or organization. It’s been my family for the last five or six years. I’m so grateful about getting the opportunity and what they’ve done for me.”
The Tucker-less Suns return to the court for the first time in nine days on Friday night, opening a three-game road trip in Chicago against the Bulls.
The Bulls are coming out of the All-Star break in seventh place in the Eastern Conference at 28-29 and will enter the stretch run without two familiar faces. The Bulls dealt starting forward Taj Gibson and reserve guard Doug McDermott to the Oklahoma City Thunder for point guard Cameron Payne, center Joffrey Lauvergne and swingman Anthony Morrow. The Bulls also sent a 2018 second-round pick to the Thunder to round out the deal.
McDermott was the Bulls’ best 3-point shooter and had connected on 37 percent of his attempts. Gibson was a respected member of the Bulls locker room who was averaging 11.6 points per game.
McDermott and Gibson were two of Chicago’s four double-digit scorers along with Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade, who will return Friday night after missing three straight games with a wrist injury. Butler, Chicago’s leading scorer, drew a lot of attention before Thursday’s deadline but remained in place as the Bulls’ cornerstone player.
Before the trade deadline, coach Fred Hoiberg told his players to only worry about what they could control. Now with the deadline past, the Bulls will need to do the same if they hope to remain in the playoff picture. Chicago went into the All-Star break with wins over Toronto and Boston.
The Suns defeated the Bulls in their previous meeting two weeks ago in Phoenix, getting 27 points from Devin Booker and 23 from Eric Bledsoe in a 115-97 victory.