Rockets: Could D’Antoni’s Contract Situation be Preventing Tucker’s Extension?

PJ Tucker #17 of the Houston Rockets takes a moment against the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)
PJ Tucker #17 of the Houston Rockets takes a moment against the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Rockets forward P.J. Tucker came out publicly and made it known he wants a contract extension promptly, but could there be a correlation between Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni’s contract status and PJ Tucker’s?

P.J. Tucker delivered a strong message to Daryl Morey and the Rockets front office yesterday regarding his contract and his feelings on his extension. In an interview with Kelly Iko of The Athletic (subscription required), Tucker made it clear that he wants the extension now, and not when the contract ends in 2021.

Tucker is valid in wanting his new deal, as he’s certainly more than earned it, which our own Tevin Williams previously wrote about.

But there’s one thing that could possibly be the hold up: Mike D’Antoni’s contract uncertainty. You may not necessarily see the correlation but I believe there is one.

The Rockets weren’t able to come to terms on a new deal with D’Antoni, despite him saying he wants to coach for another three years or so. This means if there isn’t a new deal within the next 10 months, this coming season could very well be his last in Houston. We don’t truly know how far apart D’Antoni and the Rockets are on his annual value, so we also don’t know how close they really are on an extension.

If there is in fact a new coach, how do we know he would be as big on Tucker as D’Antoni is? We know D’Antoni values Tucker, as he called him one of the best players in the league. Tucker fits what D’Antoni wants the Rockets to do, which is hoist three pointers. The Rockets have had the most three point attempts in each of D’Antoni’s first three years as the head coach of the Rockets, and Tucker has had two of his best three shooting percentages of his career from deep.

Tucker has become a corner specialist, en route to shooting 39% from the corner this past season and 40% the previous season, and has earned his way to the starting lineup in part due to that same three point shooting ability and his stellar defense. This has allowed the Rockets to use Tucker as a stretch four, despite him being 6’6 and a little undersized for a power forward. Tucker simply fits D’Antoni’s system to the tee.

But that last part is key. Tucker is a natural fit for what D’Antoni wants him to do. But who’s to say the next coach (if there is one) won’t want a true power forward? That person could very well want a natural 6-10 or 6’11 big who has a post game and can put their back to the basket, in addition to being capable of shooting the three. Obviously we don’t know what type of system said coach would have, as we don’t even have an inkling of who that could be.

From the Rockets standpoint, it may not make the most sense to commit long-term to Tucker if a new coach comes in and would want Tucker to move back to the three, for example. This would stunt the development and growth of Danuel House. Or if said coach wants Tucker coming off the bench, which could limit Tucker’s effectiveness as a defender and disrupt his rhythm as a shooter.

If the Rockets give Tucker an extension now and get a new coach who doesn’t see a real place for him, they would have an even harder time trading an aging Tucker. Absent a new deal, Tucker would be 36 years old when his current contract expires. On a new deal, Tucker could possibly be under contract until he’s 38 or 39, depending on how long the new deal would be. What would his value then be around the league at that point?

I would think the Rockets would get an extension done if they knew D’Antoni was going to be here for the long haul, because there’s nothing more for Tucker to do to prove to the Rockets that he deserves an extension. Tucker has shown hustle, heart and grit, which is part of why I say he’s the most underrated player in the league.

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Hopefully I’m wrong and there’s no correlation to D’Antoni’s lame duck status, but above all else hopefully Tucker gets his deserved extension!