Are the Rockets mismanaging PJ Tucker’s contract situation?

Houston Rockets PJ Tucker (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets PJ Tucker (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images) /

With the recent news of the Houston Rockets’ plans regarding PJ Tucker’s contract, it’s fair to raise the question of whether they’re making the right decision.

Heading into the 2019-20 season, Houston Rockets forward PJ Tucker made it known that he wanted a new contract. According to Spotrac, the 34-year-old defensive ace has made roughly $42.5 million in on-court wages, which has made him vastly underpaid considering his valuable skillset.

Tucker made it clear that he wanted an extension immediately, which ultimately didn’t happen at all. Tucker has responded with yet another strong season, as the starting center has averaged a career-high seven rebounds per game, in addition to a true shooting percentage of 58.2 percent, which is also a career-best. Tucker has become even more valuable for the Rockets with their transition to the small-ball lineup, as the Rockets have turned to him as their big man.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Rockets have instead decided to guarantee his salary for the 2020-21 season, which raises Tucker’s salary from $2.57 million to $7.97 million for next season only. This means they’ll simply throw more money at him during his final season, rather than giving him the long-term extension he desires. It’s easy to understand why the Rockets would prefer this route, as they surely don’t want to be committed long-term to Tucker, who is obviously not getting any younger.

A long-term extension would make it hard to trade him down the line, if the Rockets want to, because we don’t exactly know what value he will have around the league as he ages. On top of that, we don’t know if the Rockets will continue to employ the small-ball lineup for the long-haul.

If they don’t, how important will Tucker then be? The reality is, the Rockets can’t ask those questions at this juncture, because Tucker has shown he still has value now, both as a long-range shooter and as a defender.

Tucker has the size to defend guards, and has the defensive prowess to defend big men as well. The Houston Rockets are in win-now mode, as James Harden and Russell Westbrook are both in their prime, so it would be wise to lock him up long-term. On top of that, Tucker has clout with other players around the league, and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation among players, as he’s known to wheel and deal at any moment’s notice.

This would be a great opportunity for Morey to change his reputation with the players, as opposed to simply putting a band-aid on Tucker’s contract situation. The only downside to giving Tucker his extension is the possibility of him declining in play as he ages, meaning he wouldn’t be able to be flipped in a trade.

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But we just saw how much value Andre Iguodala has at age 36, as the Miami Heat just gave him a two-year contract extension. So why wouldn’t Tucker have more trade value down the road, considering how he’s a better 3-point shooter? It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this situation, but it seems like the Rockets’ decision to guarantee his salary for the 2020-21 season means they won’t be giving him a long-term deal.