Q&A: P.J. Tucker on his move from Milwaukee to Miami, and why 'all good teams are like this.'
Tucker dishes on the similarities between the Bucks and Heat, and his early impressions of Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley.
MIAMI — Sweating through his grey shirt, P.J. Tucker took a seat on a stool to the side of the Miami Heat’s practice court at FTX Arena. As he wiped the moisture from his temple with a towel, Tucker reflected on his first few weeks with the Heat, a marriage of organization and player he called “perfect.”
Tucker, 36, has made a living in the NBA by playing tough-as-nails defense, draining corner 3s and holding teammates accountable in Phoenix, Toronto, Houston and newly-minted title town Milwaukee. In other words, displaying the kind of “Culture” the Heat fancy existed in this very building for years.
Both Tucker and the Heat have long admired each other afar. This summer, they agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal as both seek a return to the NBA Finals. Tucker isn’t naive to that challenge, noting during the preseason that the process has only just begun. He did point out, however, that winning organizations like the Heat and the Bucks have certain similarities.
“Coach [Erik Spoelstra] does a good job of reading the team, seeing who we are, where we’re at,” Tucker said, “assessing every day how we’re doing but also getting our work in at the same time, you know what I’m saying?”
“All the good teams are like this,” he continued. “All the good teams are going to get in, get their work in… Especially in the preseason. I think all the teams that think they have a chance are like this.”
Here’s the rest of what Tucker had to say about his new team, why he chose the Heat and the plan for this season. The following conversation — which was part of my reporting for this season preview column — has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: What was the defining characteristic of your Milwaukee Bucks team (that won the championship last season)?
Tucker: That we could just out-tough guys, man. We were just non-stop. That was the thing. Guys go on runs
in games and we would not stop. We would come back time after time, we’d be down and we were never out. That mentality of next play, and keep going. That mindset is built over a season and, once we got towards the end, you could see it. Everybody locking in. That’s a special feeling.
How much did Giannis Antetokounmpo have to do with that? What stood out in playing with him?
Giannis is just gonna go out and play hard. He’s not gonna talk a lot. That was more me — mostly me (laughs). That’s my kind of leadership. But he’s just a doer. He’s gonna go out and do what he does and everybody will fill in around him. That was the thing. Everybody else coming together and doing all the little things that helped him go out and do his job.
OK, so what’s the defining characteristic of this Heat group?
It’s a little early for that. We haven’t played a game yet. I don’t know. That’s something that’s built. You can’t go off preseason. You can’t go off camp. You can’t go off any of that shit. You gotta start playing games, winning games, losing games. All the stuff that’s built over every emotion that you go through over the course of the season.
The Heat said they wanted to add championship players. It sounds like a cliché, but they prioritized you and Kyle Lowry in free agency, so it was obviously a priority. When you hear ‘championship experience,’ what does that mean to you?
A toughness. A tough mentality. Physicality. Know-how. It’s little things like that. And then you add it to young guys like Tyler [Herro] and Duncan [Robinson] that are rising. They’re young, have great skills, but just learning how to be around guys that lock in every single day in practice, lock in on little details to be able to go from being good to being a great player. That’s the thing that guys like me and Kyle bring to teams.
Your Bucks crushed the Heat on the boards in the first-round playoff sweep. Has that been a priority that coaches have talked about?
No doubt about it. We gotta own the boards if we wanna win games. More times than not teams that win in rebounds -- I forgot the percentage -- but a lot of times they win the game. You wanna own the boards, get offensive rebounds and dominate defensive boards. It’s just something championship-caliber teams do.
Note: After finishing last season with the second-worst rebounding rate in the NBA (41.5 rebounds per game), the Heat in the preseason were eighth in the league with 48 rebounds per game.
What stood out to you about the Heat in last year’s playoffs?
Miami has always been tough just because of how much they run. They don’t stop, the motion offense doesn’t stop, the ball doesn’t stop, you have to guard everybody on the floor, and they’re always in positions to score. They put you in difficult situations -- from switches and then zone coverages where you have to make reads. It’s always a tough game.
You’ve been open for a few shots that are clearly designed to get you the ball in the corner. What have you thought about Spoelstra’s offense so far?
Spo is just putting stuff in every day, trying things out, getting our flow, getting how we all play. There will be little wrinkles throughout the season. He’s so good.
Let’s go back to your offseason. Where did you spend it and what went into your decision to sign in Miami?
I spent the summer in Houston. More just chilling getting ready for free agency, not knowing what was gonna happen but at the same time having an idea of the choices and options. So it was short. It was very quick. At the end of the day, it came down to Milwaukee and here.
When Pat Riley called you on that first day of free agency [Aug. 2], what was the pitch?
No pitch. I already knew Miami was gonna come. We already knew. We just had to wait for the date and to actually talk to Coach Riley. After talking with him it was a wrap.
But what was his general message on the call?
That he’s been trying to get me for years and he knew I’d be perfect in the Heat Culture. Just how much he wanted me here. Obviously Pat doesn’t say a whole lot.
And so you really made the decision right then and there?
I wasn’t gonna wait. I knew I’d go. It was the perfect situation for me. It’s perfect timing and it worked out.
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