Stepping Up

Stuckey feels influence of Billups, Cheeks as he grows into Pistons leadership role

Rodney Stuckey
Rodney Stuckey looks to be a leader on the Pistons this upcoming season.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
Rodney Stuckey was ticking off a laundry list of reasons why he’s excited for the season ahead, including his favorable impressions of the new coaching staff, the splashy additions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings and the showings by Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond at USA Basketball’s July minicamp.

And then he wrapped it up with this: “And, most importantly, just having Chauncey back. He’s pretty much the glue that sticks everything together. He’s the most down-to-earth guy, has no ego, is willing to help anybody at any given time. Just to have him back on this team is going to help everybody. I think we’re all excited.”

When Chauncey Billups left the Pistons, it was early in Stuckey’s second season. Now Stuckey is the longest tenured Piston in terms of consecutive service and his six seasons pull him almost even with Billups, who lasted two games into his seventh season before the November 2008 trade that sent him to Denver, in overall service.

Billups went out of his way in July, when he was reintroduced as a Piston, to say he still expected Stuckey to become the star he believed he was on the verge of becoming when they parted ways nearly five years ago.

If there’s a starting position with any degree of uncertainty about it as the Pistons near training camp’s opening, it’s shooting guard. Billups has played there the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers out of deference to Chris Paul, but he made it clear when the Pistons signed him as a free agent that he sees himself as a point guard.

The Pistons drafted Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the lottery two months ago, but there’s no urgency to rush him into the starting lineup until he earns the minutes.

The surest bet is that Stuckey, now 27, lines up next to Brandon Jennings on opening night. With Jennings, Billups and returning free agent Will Bynum all at point guard, each lending something different to the mix, it would appear Stuckey won’t yo-yo between positions in 2013-14 but likely will be strictly a shooting guard. And he’s OK with that.

“I haven’t really sat down with Mo Cheeks and the coaching staff and talked to them about what they want as far as the role they want me to play, but going down to Summer League and being there for a couple of days and seeing what kind of offense we were running, with this offense it doesn’t matter. The point guard is just like the two guard and the two guard is just like the point guard.

“It was a lot more of a faster pace: come off the pick and roll, if you don’t have anything, swing it to the other side, the other big steps into a pick and roll.”

Stuckey’s coaches over his years have universally stressed that his best basketball is played when he’s in attack mode. Based on Stuckey’s conversations with Cheeks and what he sees of the personnel that will surround him, Stuckey believes the way the Pistons play this season will be conducive to drawing out his attacking mentality.

“Anything that is fast-paced, bigs running into pick and rolls, is good. We’ve got a lot of guards, a lot of playmakers, and it’s all about putting it together. We’ve got a good roster this year. Josh Smith and getting Brandon Jennings and KCP – did I say that right? The guys coming back with Moose, Drummond … we’ve got a lot of players. It’ll be exciting.

“Athletically, we’ll be there. It’s mainly putting it all together. We have a lot of guys who can go out and get 15 points a night. But it’s all about chemistry, putting it together, trying to combine everything, making sure guys are always on the same page, nobody’s going to be getting any egos. It’s all about winning. If we’re winning games, everyone looks good.”

And there, Stuckey brings it back around to Billups, certain that the strong leadership presence he remembers from Mr. Big Shot will infuse the locker room. He also senses an early positive vibe from Cheeks and his staff as he’s spent time under them working out at the team’s practice facility. Cheeks has been frank with his expectations for Stuckey, he said.

“Be a leader,” Stuckey said. “I’m one of the vets on this team now. He just pretty much talked to me about being a leader and just coming to work every day, just grab the guys with me and have them follow me. He wants me to be a leader out there. We’ve been having little conversations here and there. He understands what I’ve been through and he understands what I can do and he just wants me to work, come in each and every day and get my work done and once the season comes, be ready to play.”

Stuckey said his focus this summer has been less about skill work – though he’s now getting up hundreds of shots daily and working with assistants Maz Trakh and Bernard Smith on situational shooting drills – and more about building strength. (Even ex-teammate and new assistant Rasheed Wallace pitched in one day this week. “Straight up and straight down, Stuck. Keep your arm up there. Straight up and straight down. Every time.”) He said he’s about 210 pounds now and feels stronger than he ever has, though he expects to shed a few pounds once training camp opens.

Stuckey said he’s heard the buzz around the league from players who’ve worked under Cheeks, how he has a way of connecting and drawing out their best.

“Just from talking to him, every time we end our conversations, he always tells me, ‘I’m going to help you out,’ ” Stuckey said. “Every time. It’s just confidence and he’s instilling that inside of me. It’s just good to hear that from your head coach. I’m excited to work with him. We have a young team, athletic. We’ll see what happens. We sit here and say this each and every year, but it feels legit this year, with the guys we have. We’re all excited to get going.”