The new Milwaukee forward opens up to The Crossover about getting traded and playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Welcome to the Morning Shootaround, where every weekday you’ll get a fresh, topical column from one of SI.com’s NBA writers: Howard Beck on Mondays, Chris Mannix on Tuesdays, Michael Pina on Wednesdays, Chris Herring on Thursdays and Rohan Nadkarni on Fridays.
A little over one month after being traded to the Bucks, burly swingman P.J. Tucker was a little depressed.
Not because he wasn’t excited to be playing for a contender, not because he was upset with his role on his new team, but because after years of living in warm Houston, in late April the forecast in Milwaukee still called for snow.
“To really see snow in April? I was mind-blown,” Tucker told Sports Illustrated over the phone earlier this week. “It killed my whole vibe. So I was like if the weather is that crazy, I’m going to do something crazy.”
How crazy? On April 22, against the advice of all of his friends, Tucker drove his Ferrari with the top down through ice-cold Wisconsin, decked out in a puffer jacket fit for Arctic exploration and a Travis Scott ski mask to boot.
The Bucks will need Tucker to continue embracing the weather and stay warm through the summer, as the veteran is expected to play a key role for the championship hopeful come playoff time. Acquired from the Rockets at the trade deadline, Tucker gives Milwaukee—coming off two straight disappointing playoff exits—a 3-and-D presence with plenty of big-game postseason experience.
It’s not hard to see how Tucker fits in with the Bucks. He’ll space the floor on offense, and he’ll unlock some more switchability on defense for a team that in years past has been criticized for its conservative defensive schemes. It’s only seen a few minutes of action so far in the regular season, but don’t be surprised to see a Jrue Holiday–Giannis Antetokounmpo–Khris Middleton–Donte DiVincenzo-Tucker lineup come closing time of a playoff game.
After chatting about the weather, SI also caught up with Tucker about his role on the Bucks, potentially guarding James Harden in the postseason and more.
Sports Illustrated: You’ve been one of my favorite players since you were wearing goggles and diving into the stands with the Suns. And people like me are always writing, “Play P.J. Tucker at center; play P.J. Tucker at power forward. He can handle it.” It’s easy for me to write it, but you actually have to go out there and play. How hard has it been to be the guy your whole career who is always guarding guys bigger or taller than you? You can obviously hold your own, but has it taken a toll on you? What’s it like always guarding up?
P.J. Tucker: I appreciate that question, honestly. That’s a part of what made my career, being able to recognize a niche and a need, and be able do something really good, right? In the NBA you have your stars, the Kevin Durants, James Harden, guys like that. They do everything; they do what they want. And everybody else is a role player. If we look at it, there’s not a lot of guys who are able to guard one to five, able to space the floor, able to knock down a shot, and to be able to hustle, get extra possessions, do all the little things that don’t show up in the box score to win games.
Dan Majerle, who was my coach in Phoenix, I’ll never forget my first summer league with the team. He broke it down to me that way. And every game he put me on somebody, and he was like, You lock them up. They don’t go off tonight. And I took it personally. And it just kind of built from there. So I take pride in that, every night knowing my matchups, knowing everything that goes into it.
SI: When you got traded, the Rockets had lost 11 games in a row. Now you’re on a Bucks team that I think won eight of the first 10 games you played in. How hard is the adjustment to go from a team that’s struggling to one of the best teams in the league?
PT: Both of my trades were from situations like that. This time was a little different because I came from a Houston team that was championship-chasing. So my mindset was ready for this situation; it was about getting back to this. When I went from Phoenix to Toronto, going to a team that was really good, had a great year, they felt like I was a piece who could make them better.
It’s a little different now with Milwaukee being older. I know my job, my role, what they want. It’s a lot easier. But the task is just as hard as the first time because there are a lot of good teams this year, and I have to fit in and incorporate with the team. And I had an injury when I first got here, which I haven’t had much of in my career. But it’s been enjoyable. I won’t lie; it’s been enjoyable.
SI: A lot of the criticism around Milwaukee last year, people thought maybe they were playing too conservatively in the playoffs. Maybe they need to be switching more. We know how useful you can be in a playoff series. Did you have a conversation when you got to Milwaukee about your role? Has anyone told you, “We envision you doing this during crunch time?”
PT: Yeah, definitely. Coach Bud is super transparent. And I’m at the point in my career where I know why I’m here. I’ve lived through every situation possible. It’s not rocket science. They don’t want me to do nothing I don’t do. What happened last year, and how they lost the couple years, winning so many games in the regular season, not getting as far as they should have, they are looking for different lineups that can help win games. For me, it’s about bringing all the intangible stuff that they need.
SI: You’ve been around great players in your career. What have you noticed being up close with Giannis? What is it that makes him special? He’s having another MVP-level season, but nobody is really talking about it.
PT: It’s crazy, right? He does that every night for years now. People become complacent with what he’s able to do every single night. I’ve exclusively guarded Giannis since he came into the league. I know a lot about his length, his quickness, his strength. You have to have somebody strong to be physical with him and to be fast enough to stay in front of him and take the charges. Because he’s so tall, he’s so long, you have to have somebody like that.
Thinking of how I had to guard him and now being on his team, it’s amazing to see day in and day out how much work he puts in. I didn’t realize. He’s gotten older; obviously, he’s put on more muscle, he’s filled out more, but it’s not just that. He puts in so much work on his shot. He’s always in the gym. Being on an opposing team you don’t really get to see that. To get to see that from him is pretty cool. Obviously, everybody works, especially the great guys. He really puts in a lot and I really appreciate that because he’s a great player.
SI: Three teams in the East have separated themselves, you guys, the Nets and the Sixers. Have you allowed yourself to think about what it could be like to guard James Harden in a playoff series? Is that something you would look forward to?
PT: Of course! What are you talking—anybody, I’m excited to guard anybody in a playoff series. Obviously, James and I built our relationship and he’s my guy forever. Me and him compete when we’re working out together; we’ve literally come to blows, getting in fights while working out. To go head to head in a real game, obviously, that would be amazing. It’s the same thing with Kevin [Durant]; all these guys, same with Philly. I’m excited about it all. I think this year the playoffs are going to be fun. I’m super excited about it.
SI: Now, lastly, I know that you get a lot of attention for your sneakers, but I don’t think you get enough attention for your entire fashion. You know, it’s not just the sneakers, like you got it all going on. I just want to know, I’m balling on a budget a little bit over here. I’m trying my best. Like, what’s your advice? What’s your advice for normal people like me? What do I have to do?
PT: I always say, honestly, wear what you love. I wear a lot of inexpensive stuff. I know sometimes a lot of expensive stuff gets the hype and people talk about it. I wear a lot of inexpensive stuff that I really love and think it’s cool. Wear the stuff you love. It’s not about what it costs. If you love it, and you put it on and it makes you feel good, then that’s what you should wear, man. I’m all about that. It’s about how it makes you feel. It’s not about the actual articles and all that. That’s why I get dressed. It makes me happy, and that’s what matters.
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