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The curious case of P.J. Tucker

It’s certainly a sticky situation.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As the Houston Rockets fell for the 17th time in as many games against the Atlanta Hawks last night, only eight players suited up for the team.

The team has been absolutely decimated by injuries recently, especially after the news that David Nwaba reaggravated his wrist injury and will likely need surgery. Ben McLemore was also ruled out with an ankle injury. They joined John Wall, Christian Wood, Danuel House Jr., Rodions Kurucs and Dante Exum on the injury report.

However, there is one player not on the injury report that did not suit up, or show up, last night. That’s P.J. Tucker.

Tucker has not been with the team since the All-Star break after the 35 year old power forward and the Rockets mutually agreed to hold him out of games amidst the interest around the league in trading for him before next Thursday’s NBA Trade Deadline.

However, when a team like the Rockets that is as banged up as any NBA team in history, it might be nice to have an extra pair of legs, especially legs as durable as Tucker’s.

Longtime Rockets broadcaster Bill Worrell shared his opinion about not having Tucker playing with the team.

The Dream Take co-host Michael Brown also delivered a passionate take on the most recent episode of The Dream Take, TDS’s #1 podcast.

Of course, there is a benefit to having Tucker out there just to offer an extra boost of energy that the Rockets could have used last night in their comeback attempt. Could fresher 4th quarter legs have pushed the Rockets past the Hawks last night? I can’t guarantee it, but I like our chances a little bit more.

Short term, it makes sense to have P.J. out there. He’s been the “glue guy” for the Rockets ever since he arrived here in 2017 and it pains me to see his Rockets tenure ending on the franchise’s longest losing streak ever. However, it feels a little out of place to be mad at Tucker when his positives over the course of his Rockets career have certainly outweighed the negatives.

Even after James Harden left in January, Tucker stuck with the program. At the end of January, when this Rockets team was at its peak, Victor Oladipo had this to say about Tucker:

He made that comment January 31 when the Rockets were riding a six-game winning streak, just 45 days ago. A lot has changed in 45 days and the Rockets find themselves on a different kind of streak.

After the All-Star break, with the team on 14-game skid and playoffs basically out of reach, the team and Tucker came to that mutual agreement to hold out until a trade or buyout was finalized.

However, should we be mad about this development with Tucker?

I’m sure if he really wanted to play, the Rockets would let him, especially given the team’s injury woes. However, I think him not playing is in the best interest of the team on a macro scale.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the team has less than 1% of a chance to crash the postseason, and for the first time in a very long time, the team has a chance to inject some youth into the roster.

The players who have benefitted the most out of the vacated Tucker minutes have been rookies Jae’Sean Tate and K.J. Martin.

Tate dropped a career-high 25 points last night and Martin has been averaging 14.3 points per game and 31.3 minutes per game.

Before Martin left for the G-League bubble, he played seldom and he didn’t look quite like an NBA player. After just three games, you can see Martin’s improvement and his athleticism has proven that he has the chops to stick around in the league. Oh, and he’s only 19. He’s going to get better. Much better.

I know guys like Bill Worrell and Michael Brown exist in Red Nation and they want to see winning basketball just like all of us do. But the sooner the Rockets start this rebuild, the sooner they can get out of it. It starts with giving these young guys a chance to make mistakes when the games don’t matter as much and allow them to face adversity in games that don’t have much weight. That way, when games do matter, they are more ready for the moment.

P.J. has paid his dues, played overseas, jumped around the NBA playing for some awful Phoenix Suns teams, and now, an awful Houston Rockets team. He’s 35, and wants a shot at a ring. The Rockets can’t offer that shot right now. The last thing the team (or Tucker) needs right now is for him to reaggravate an injury and botch his trade value, similar to what happened with Eric Gordon in Utah or David Nwaba before the All-Star Break.

Complaining about P.J.’s play or lack thereof isn’t going to solve any problems for the Rockets, but playing rookies like Anthony Lamb, Jae’Sean Tate and K.J. Martin is more likely to solve the Rockets rebuilding than P.J. Tucker will.