Sources: Houston is trading PJ Tucker, Rodions Kurucs and Bucks’ 2022 first-round pick back to Milwaukee for DJ Augustin, DJ Wilson and 2023 unprotected first-round pick. Houston also gets right to swap its 2021 second-round pick for Milwaukee's FRP pick unless it falls 1-9.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 17, 2021
Tucker, a 6’5” 245 pound tank, was one of the last remaining members of a championship caliber roster the Rockets had assembled around James Harden and Chris Paul. Tucker’s worker mentality and feistiness as a small ball center offered the Rockets a unique play style that they could use almost entirely due to Tucker’s skill set. The Rockets consistently played small, spreading out opposing defenses on one end of the floor, and switching all ball screens on the other end of the floor. Tucker was integral to that system, but with Harden leaving earlier this season for the Brooklyn Nets, the writing was on the wall.
At 35 years old and turning 36 before the playoffs, there are questions about Tucker’s viability playing heavy minutes in a playoff setting. Tucker is having his worst season as a Rocket, shooting 31.4% from three-point range on just 2.7 attempts per game. In addition, his defense has taken a step backward. The Bucks are betting that, in a losing situation with the Rockets this year, Tucker can find an extra gear when the games matter once again.
No player back from Suns in the Craig deal, sources tell ESPN. Bucks signed him as a free agent from Denver in offseason, but he was never able to find a rotational role. Suns pick up a playoff-tested bench player.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 17, 2021
Craig has only played 18 games and averaged 11.2 minutes per game in Milwaukee this season, as his lack of dynamic shooting and playmaking has prevented him rom seeing the floor next to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Bucks. It appears the Suns are taking a flyer on him being capable enough in a playoff series to be an impactful guard and wing defender next to Chris Paul and Devin Booker. You can never have enough options on the wing.
Why does this matter to Denver? Well, the Nuggets had rumored interest in Tucker close to three weeks ago. They had checked in on the asking price of Tucker and were concerned at how high the cost was. In addition, there is some duplication between what Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green currently do and what the Nuggets would expect from Tucker. The Nuggets weighed the price and decided it wasn’t worth it to seriously pursue Tucker for what most likely would have been marginal returns over their current roster.
The other aspect of this: Torrey Craig probably could have been had. The Nuggets decided they didn’t want to bring back Craig in the offseason to clear space for Michael Porter Jr. to play significant minutes. Now that Porter has established himself, and established that his best position may be power forward, it’s interesting to think about whether the Nuggets reached out to Milwaukee or not. The Nuggets do have a $9.6 million trade exception generated from Jerami Grant signing in Detroit, and that most certainly would have been enough to acquire Craig. All Denver would have needed to do would be to cut a current player on the roster, most likely Bol Bol or Vlatko Cancar.
There are reasons why Denver shouldn’t do that and should instead be patient, but it’s at least interesting to think about the alternatives that would have keep Craig, a physical wing defender that would give Denver more options in a playoff series. Bol is still 20 years old, and Cancar showed he could be counted on in a pinch prior to the All-Star break.
Whatever the case may be, that’s two option trade options off the board for the Nuggets in the span of one trade. Their biggest hole, wing defense, still needs to be filled in some way, shape, or form. It won’t be Tucker or Craig for the Nuggets this year, which means the Nuggets will still need to be creative in how they solve their biggest flaw.