One for the Road
Stuckey’s big finish helps Pistons win finale at Philly
That left the Pistons at 30-52, a three-win improvement over their injury-scuttled 2009-10 season. It will go down as an eminently disappointing year for the Pistons, one that began with hopes that a deep and versatile roster would compensate well enough for the lack of a certified All-Star to challenge for a bottom-four playoff spot in an Eastern Conference weighted at the top with legitimate NBA title contenders.
The Pistons lost too many winnable games over the first half of the season, dropping their first three games despite holding either last-minute or double-digit leads into the second half. Now their future rests in the hands of Joe Dumars, who must decide if he can trust that what he saw over the final five games from Stuckey can be sustained over 82 games.
The answer won’t necessarily decide whether or not Stuckey returns – as a pending restricted free agent, Stuckey is a player Dumars has consistently included as among the future core – but what other moves Joe D prioritizes on a roster heavy with wing players.
Stuckey’s numbers in those final five games were the stuff of All-Stars, or even MVP candidates: 25.6 points and 9.4 assists on 51.9 percent shooting. He also got to the free-throw line 46 times – nearly 10 trips a game – and knocked them down at a league-leading rate, 93.4 percent. If Stuckey can approach those numbers over 82 games, the playoffs would be well within reach, at minimum.
That five-game stretch came after Stuckey’s two-game benching for refusing to re-enter the April 1 loss to Chicago, the night the Pistons honored Dennis Rodman be retiring his jersey.
“It was my ultimate goal for the end of the season,” Stuckey said of his strong finish. “Being in the doghouse, I just wanted to come back and play hard for my teammates. I just tried to come out and play hard, be aggressive, push the tempo, get a lot of easy baskets and that’s what I did. Good finish, but hopefully next year is a lot better. Change is on the way.”
The three holdover veterans from the 2004 NBA title-winning Pistons – Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince – could all be touched by those changes. Prince is set to become an unrestricted free agent and controls his destiny. Hamilton could be traded as the Pistons look for better roster balance. And Wallace will take the next few months to decide whether to retire or not.
“There’s a lot of decisions that have to be made,” John Kuester said. “We all know about those decisions. In Tayshaun’s case, he’s going to have a lot of people … he had a wonderful year. Rip, it’s been well-documented about the things we have gone through. To see him play with the passion I know he’s capable of, I’m very, very proud of him right now.”
The one player most certain to return is Greg Monroe, the jewel plucked with the No. 7 pick in last June’s draft. Monroe moved into the starting lineup in early January and arguably was the team’s best and most consistent player since then. Fittingly, he finished his rookie season – one that surely will find him named to the All-Rookie first team – with his 21st double-double, giving the Pistons 10 points and 13 boards. Since Jan. 1, Monroe is 12th in the NBA in rebounding, fifth in offensive rebounding.
The Pistons will go into the May 17 draft lottery slotted No. 7. Should they stay there and add a player who can contribute similarly to Monroe, their playoff drought in the first season under Tom Gores’ ownership will have a good shot at ending at two years.