Suns bring Tucker back with 3-year, $16.5 million deal

P.J. Tucker worked his way into the Suns' starting lineup with relentless hustle, an improved shooting touch and tenacious defense.

Mark J. Rebilas/Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Suns made their first strike of the 2014 NBA free-agency campaign by agreeing to terms with forward P.J. Tucker on a three-year contract worth a reported $16.5 million.

Tucker, a restricted free agent, earned this reward two years after he returned to the United States from five years of plying his trade overseas.

In his second season as a Sun, Tucker moved into the starting lineup and provided 9.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and all-league-caliber defense each game.

A second-round pick of the Toronto Raptors in 2006, the former Texas Longhorn also lifted his 3-point accuracy by 7 points over the previous season.

According to various reports, Tucker’s tenacity and leadership had attracted interest from a handful of NBA teams.

But after expressing a strong desire to stay with the team that provided a second shot at a life in the NBA, Tucker and his agent reached an accord with the Suns.

Free-agency tracker

Keeping one of their emotional leaders became even more important for the Suns after veteran forward Channing Frye agreed to terms this week with the Orlando Magic.

The Suns’ other restricted free agent — point guard Eric Bledsoe — has yet to be attached to a reported offer sheet from another suitor.

While Phoenix is expected to match any such agreement and keep Bledsoe, the Suns also reportedly have met with restricted free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas.

The expected price range for the 5-foot-9 Thomas, who averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game for the Sacramento Kings this past season, could open at $8 million per year.

With Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and first-round pick Tyler Ennis all under the Suns’ control, Thomas would represent a pricey extra playmaking option.

The Suns’ interest in Thomas will provoke rumors of potential deals involving Bledsoe and Dragic.

More Suns

Most of the forthcoming rumors should spin different ways in which the Suns could acquire Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love.

But as a restricted free agent, Bledsoe would have to agree on his next destination before becoming part of a sign-and-trade deal. With a few other teams — such as the Los Angeles Lakers — expected to turn their attentions to Bledsoe after whiffing on more high-profile free agents, the Suns’ ability to move him (should that even be a consideration) is limited.

And without Love on the roster (and point guard Ricky Rubio still on it), it seems extremely unlikely that Bledsoe would have any interest in hooking up with Minnesota.

The Suns could instead put Dragic in a package to the Timberwolves, but that would create similar complications. Dragic outplayed his salary by a wide margin this past season and could exercise his player option and become a free agent next season. Unless he’s interested in a long-term arrangement with Minnesota, the Timberwolves would seemingly be wary of signing off on such a deal.

Although the Kings reportedly have been in the market for a facilitator type at point guard, they still can match any deal the Suns could make with Thomas.

A sign-and-trade with Sacramento involving Bledsoe probably will be another rumor, because such a deal would reunite the former Kentucky guard with center DeMarcus Cousins. But better options for the younger half of the Suns’ DragonBlade probably would surface.

Another possibility would be the Suns deciding not to match whatever max contract offer comes Bledsoe’s way and filling his spot in the lineup with Thomas at a lower price. The Suns, however, have repeatedly insisted that they will pay whatever price is necessary to retain Bledsoe.

So, while we can prepare to sift through Suns-related guard chatter, please note it’s still very unlikely they have much, if any, interest in parting with the 24-year-old playmaker.

It also should be remembered that even better gossip has Love possibly aimed at Cleveland if LeBron James decides to have a homecoming.

Follow Randy Hill on Twitter