Taking Charge

Stuckey back to work, eager to embrace Pistons leadership role

Rodney Stuckey is eager to shoulder the task of leading the Pistons into a new era.
Allen Einstein (Getty Images)
Whatever else Rodney Stuckey took away from his exit interview with Lawrence Frank at season’s end, this is what he most took to heart: “What he is demanding a lot more from me is being vocal with the guys and stepping up and being a leader. It’s my time – time for me to be a leader.”

Stuckey is taking the leadership ball and running with it. He returned to Seattle for a brief time to oversee the remodeling of his home there, but he’s been back in Michigan for the past week and is hitting it hard already at the practice facility. After a three-hour workout Wednesday, he talked about the positive feelings the Pistons took out of the 2011-12 season and the anticipation already building for 2012-13.

“We went away with a lot of vibe,” he said. “Our team chemistry is off the chain. Each and every guy gets along. We never had any of that drama in the locker room where guys are mad at one another. We all get along. That’s good.

“But after the season, we knew we took some good steps from 4 and 20 – we were playing some good basketball at times – but we’ve got to build on that. Hopefully, guys come in in shape and ready to work.”

Stuckey is doing more than just hoping his teammates report to camp ready to pick up where they left off, going 21-21 over the season’s final 42 games. He’s putting his leadership to use to make sure they will be.

He has a July trip to Sweden – tour guide: Jonas Jerebko – on tap, but other than that and a quick Memorial Day return to Seattle to check up on the remodeling project, he’s sinking roots at the practice facility. And putting out a siren call to teammates to join him.

He expects Brandon Knight to join up next week and he’s planning for the group to grow.

“Later in the summer, I’m going to try to get the guys back out to work out here for at least a month,” he said, ticking off the names of Knight, Greg Monroe, Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva for starters. “We’ll have our draft picks here as well, hopefully. Just try to change the atmosphere around in here. The chemistry is there, but just getting in work together will be good for us.”

Stuckey has spent his summers primarily in Seattle in the past, where he also has a network in place to monitor his workouts. But the total package, which now includes son Trey, 7 months, is available to him here.

Arnie Kander and assistant coach Steve Hetzel have been running his workouts and assistant Dee Brown, he said, is expected to join them soon.

“I have everything here as far as guys to work me out. Arnie is here, Steve, Dee will be here, the court’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I just feel better being here. Plus my son is here and I want to make sure I’m around to hang out with him.”

Among the projects he’ll oversee at his Seattle remodeling? A sauna. When Stuckey pulled a hamstring muscle in late March, Kander used a program similar to the one he devised for Villanueva – sauna therapy he calls “thermogenesis” – to help Stuckey recover. He loved it and has continued workouts in the sauna, using implements such as a trampoline and a medicine ball. He wants to get slightly leaner this summer, too.

“I just want to get my body right – at least 5 pounds and 1 percent body fat,” he said. “I want to be ready to come in next year and have a great season.” He wants to be lighter and more explosive to be able to better finish at the rim. He’s working on his mid-post game this summer, he said, shooting over both shoulders, and using both hands around the basket.

Stuckey is coming off of his best season, though the stats – 14.8 points and 3.8 assists in 30 minutes a game – don’t do it justice. He started slowly and played over a groin injury, logged two months of All-Star-level basketball, then limped to the finish line with a variety of leg ailments.

He traces it to a logical source: a summer spent working out individually and avoiding 5-on-5 basketball due to his status as a pending free agent, then a training camp wiped out by contract negotiations, and a rushed preseason which dumped him into a furious schedule that saw the Pistons play 24 games in the season’s first 38 days.

“Foot, groin, hamstring – it was all on my left side,” he said. “The schedule was crazy. Back to back to back, day off, back to back. That schedule caught up to me. My body just pretty much broke down.”

He’s putting the summer to use to guard against a recurrence, but already looking ahead to reconvening in the fall.

“I’m looking forward to next year – next year is big for us in general as an organization,” he said. “Just to see what’s out there, what trades we can make, see what draft picks are coming in. Hopefully, Kyle Singler comes back – excited to have him; he’s a really good player. We’ve got three draft picks. There’s still going to be some pretty good players at nine. It’s going to help us out.”

He’s also looking forward to a stability in place that hasn’t been there for him over his first five seasons, whether it was changing coaches or dealing with the uncertainty of the transition of ownership. Stuckey thrived under Frank’s system and is eager, now that it’s familiar to all, to kick it up a notch.

“L is defensive minded,” he said. “He really wants us to focus on defense. He’s like, ‘Look, if you guys get stops, you can pretty much do whatever you want on offense.’ We really enjoyed it. Our mind-set coming into next year is ‘get stops, get stops, get stops.’ He’s straightforward. If you’re the star player or the 12th or 15th player on the bench, he’s going to get on you. That’s really good.”

It’s a message that struck a chord with Rodney Stuckey, one he’s willing to preach throughout the summer as his head coach’s proxy.