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Steve Aschburner

Bucks guard Jerry Stackhouse is still shaking off the rust after his long NBA layoff.
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Bucks' newest face still working out rust in his game

Posted Jan 26 2010 11:53AM

Three or four players and a few civilians were left in the Milwaukee Bucks' locker room late Saturday night when the relative quiet was pierced by the sound of someone going all "American Idol" in the shower. Turns out, it was Jerry Stackhouse's baritone echoing off the tile and down the hall, singing a tune no one instantly recognized but making known his presence that began with Milwaukee just five days earlier.

Eager to fill the void created by shooting guard Michael Redd's latest season-ending knee injury, seeking to replace some of the scoring and experience that Redd provided, the Bucks reached out to Stackhouse. Never mind that the long-ago North Carolina star had played in just 10 NBA games since the end of 2007-08 and none at all this season in what was looking more like a forced and endless furlough than any official retirement. The Bucks knew Stackhouse -- general manager John Hammond had been with him in Detroit, coach Scott Skiles actually played with him for a season in Philadelphia -- and felt he had something left in his tank.


So if that had been a rookie crooning away in the shower, the grinning folks in the locker room might have thought: Knuckleheaded new guy. But since it was a warhorse drafted nearly 15 years ago, taken No. 3 overall in 1995 ahead of fellow All-Stars Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett and Michael Finley, Stackhouse's little audience could nod knowingly at his not-quite dulcet tones and think: Savvy veteran influence, keeping things loose.

I talked with Stackhouse Saturday before and after he blew out the carbon of nearly 1 1/2 seasons of inactivity in his new team's 127-94 cruise past Minnesota. In 28 minutes, playing in his third game in four nights, Stackhouse scored 14 points with three rebounds, five assists, two steals and four turnovers. Next stop: Dallas, where he spent five of his best NBA seasons but was dumped in a trade last summer to Memphis, a team that waived him almost immediately. Third game back after such a layoff, were you ready for so many minutes?

Jerry Stackhouse: Nah, it's good. He [Skiles] knew what he was doing. He knew we had a day off tomorrow. I needed the blowing-out a little bit. And it was cool, because I got a chance to play with everybody. There were guys I hadn't really been on the floor with, I didn't know what those guys do, how they set screens, you know. I feel good. Always feel good after a win. Did you wonder if you'd get a chance like this to play again somewhere?

JS: With the economy being what it was, I know a lot of teams were holding back. Every team my agent talked to, they talked about the luxury tax and the ramifications of bringing on a player who had as many years as I had. Teams talked about having to clear a roster spot, stuff like that. But I did expect that by maybe the All-Star break, when teams are normally adding guys for their playoff run, something would happen. This came a little sooner because of Michael's injury. I jumped on it. Were you able to stay in NBA shape?

JS: No. You can't stay in NBA shape without being in the NBA. You can run, you can do whatever, but there's nothing like getting back into the fold, working against NBA players. I worked out with a high school team [in Atlanta] and tried to keep my body good with some cardio. I think the team was kind of impressed with where I was at from being off so long. That made it easier for them to sign me. Were you actually playing?

JS: Yeah. But it was high school competition. I had fun with it -- I was able to get up and down the court a little bit. I had a couple of guys who had played overseas and we'd get together and work out. How were you filling your days otherwise?

JS: I was helping out with my son's seventh-grade team, kind of coaching. The fun stuff that I hadn't been able to do over the last 15 years. It was cool. I think it sparked my passion for getting into coaching a little bit. Just seeing their growth, from showing them something to the next time when they're doing it, things they learned. They're like sponges. I don't know how much at the pro level I'd like it but high school, college, it seems like fun. What's your initial snapshot view of the Bucks?

JS: More firepower than I thought. Obviously [rookie Brandon] Jennings kind of took the headlines because of how he was playing right off, but Andrew [Bogut], to me, if he plays that way consistently, he should be a perennial All-Star center. He has a lot of skill on the block and really competes. So where do you fit in?

JS: I'm just trying to share some leadership with them. Being through the wars I've been through and handling the down moments -- everybody has ups and downs in an NBA season. I'm here to help them on the court but even more so, just sharing with them a little bit. Everyone I've talked to here has been real responsive to that. The Bucks also have talked about you bringing "toughness." Now, you've had several run-ins in your past: A fight with Utah's Jeff Hornacek, a beef with the Jazz's Kirk Snyder that took place out by the bus after a game. You sent Shaquille O'Neal sprawling into the cameramen in the 2006 Finals and last season, you talked about wanting to kick New Orleans coach Byron Scott's butt after a verbal exchange. Then there was the incident in Detroit, when you and Christian Laettner came to blows on a team flight in April 1999. It was over a card game, and it popped into my mind after the recent Gilbert Arenas episode.

JS: Me and Christian were together the next day. That was just some snitch on the plane, that's the only reason it got out of the team. You're however many thousand feet in the air, just two guys who obviously weren't going to back down in a situation and it spilled out. Nobody was thinking about no guns. Surprised that it escalated to that in Washington?

JS: I think it was a joke. That's who Gilbert is, he's a prankster, and he chose the wrong joke. The league had to step in and do what they did. I don't think he has a serious bone in his body. But I think this whole situation is making him have one. Did you have "old heads" on the teams you played on as a young guy?

JS: Once I got to Detroit I did. We didn't really have that in Philadelphia -- it was just young guys, free agents, trying to build a team. But for any team to have success, you've got to have a mix. In Detroit, I had Joe Dumars, Rick Mahorn, Grant Long. Those were the guys who helped me learn how to be a pro. Not that it would do any good now, but do you ever think what it would have been like for you to get drafted by a different team? In Philadelphia, it was all about you and Allen Iverson, two young scorers, finding a way to share the ball. Two years in, you got traded.

JS: I don't think about it like that. God put me on this path for a reason. If I went somewhere else, I might not be here right now. I might not have the blessed fortune of playing 15 years in this league. I had to deal with situations ... but I liked my path. I liked that I was able to get out there and play. That's the only way you're going to develop in this league, is getting on the court. It's great to sit behind veterans and watch -- that's been good for some guys. But I wouldn't change one thing. I like that, from my rookie year, I was thrown into the fire and had to either swim or drown. You've played for five teams. Ever wish you'd been a one-organization guy?

JS: Not hardly. You can about count on one hand the guys who spend their whole careers with one team. Or two teams, for that matter. It's a business and, for whatever reason, if they don't have the success of winning it all, they start to change gears. That's the pattern for most teams.

Who do you have? Kobe and Paul Pierce? Those guys have probably been on their teams the longest. Then you have Jason [Kidd] and Shaq and Michael Finley, Rasheed, those guys I came in the league with, they've been on three, four, five teams. That's just the way it goes. You've gone from the heights of averaging 29.8 points with Detroit in 2000-01 to just 10.7 in 2007-08 with the Mavericks. Last season, you got on the court for only 162 minutes. Were you ready to join the other retired guys from the Class of '95?

JS: Nah, nah, nah. I just think it was the little nags, the injuries that got me down. You can spend more time in the training room than on the court. What I love is the competition, whether it's in practice and going up and down [the floor], and [right before tipoff at] 7 o'clock or 7:30 -- that's the best time. When you're in a pool running, trying to fix a hamstring, that's when it starts to weigh on you.

But I think it's been a blessing in disguise that I hurt my foot last year. To be able to have pretty much the whole season and then half of this season to have my legs fresh now. Obviously, you have to do things to keep 'em from dry-rotting. But it's served me well. What do you like best about your NBA career?

JS: What is there not to like about having an NBA career? Less than half of a percent of the world, less than that, is able to do what we do or even have a job that they love to do. Yeah, but you haven't been on a championship team. The Inside the NBA guys turned that into a debate -- would a player rather have Steve Nash's career or Steve Kerr's? -- to weigh All-Star status against a ring collection.

JS: I don't hold a whole lot of stock in [needing a championship ring]. Some people get the chance to play for a championship, and I did in Dallas. [But] if Steve Kerr or somebody had a chance to play longer than he did, I'm sure he'd have jumped at it. He probably would have traded back a ring. It's great to say that you won. But at the end of the day, they're probably going to say you coat-tailed Michael Jordan for it anyway [laughing].

A lot of those guys who were on championship teams -- Keith Booth or Tony Brown -- don't you think they would trade those rings for four or five extra seasons of income and playing? At the end of the day, it's a business. You're working and trying to use the gifts you got from the Man Upstairs to create a legacy for your family. That's all that's going to matter once all of the air's out of the ball. How much have you been able to save and put away. You know the stories, the guys who squandered their earnings and outlived their means. What have you liked the least about your career?

JS: Bad calls. Really? You mean there are some from the past that still eat at you?

JS: No. I mean, they're still coming. That's part of the game. But when you're in one of those situations, for whatever reason, it always seems personal [laughing].

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.

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