Rodney Stuckey believes somebody in Detroit was spreading dirt on him throughout the NBA. Telling people he's a bad teammate, has bad character and wouldn't fit with a winning team.
Pacers fans should track down that person and … thank him.
If he hadn't been forced to deal with that whispered defamation of character following his seven seasons in Detroit, Stuckey likely would have signed with another team over the summer – a team that could have offered to pay far more money than the reported veteran's minimum the Pacers could offer. But Stuckey had nothing but one-year offers to select from, so he chose the team he thought offered the best opportunity to rehabilitate his image, regardless of the money.
He's feeling he made the right choice.
Stuckey scored 25 points in the Pacers' 109-103 overtime victory over Milwaukee on Thursday, continuing a run of startling performances that coincides non-coincidentally with their seven-game winning streak. Over the last 11 games since Stuckey became a permanent backup, he's averaged 19.4 points while shooting better than 50 percent from the field. He's scored 30 or more three times, including a season-high 34 on Tuesday, and scored 15 after halftime to help lead the comeback against the Bucks.
Stuckey is a bench player in name only. He's led the Pacers in minutes played the last two games, and ranks third on the team in minutes per game. He played 36 minutes, 58 seconds against Milwaukee, including all of the fourth quarter and overtime. Call him a reserve if you like, but attach an asterisk to it.
Call him a minimum-salary player, too, but put an asterisk on that as well. Stuckey took a cut in pay to come to the Pacers to clear his name, and so far is doing a dramatic job of that.
“A lot of people were questioning my character,” he said. “'Oh, he's not a good teammate.' This and that. That and this. I'm a great guy. I'm very humble, I come to work each and every day, do my business.”
But someone with the Pistons tried to sully his reputation, he said.
“It's just unfortunate,” he said. “I'm not going to say names, but I know who it was. It's just unfortunate for that person to throw me under the bus.”
Stuckey's recent play has fans wondering and worrying if the Pacers will be able to keep him beyond this season. He says not to worry.
“I want to be here,” he said. “When that time comes, we'll definitely figure something out.” Coach Frank Vogel is on board with that, saying before the game the plan all along has been to make Stuckey a more permanent fixture of the team.
We should pause a moment to inject a dollop of realism. Lance Stephenson said the same thing last season, and it didn't work out. It was Stephenson's departure that brought Stuckey and C.J. Miles to the Pacers, a one-for-two trade that so far looks awfully favorable. It's impossible to speculate what Stuckey will command as a free agent this summer, but he's obviously in for a big raise. Like all personnel matters, it will have to play itself out.
But Stuckey wants to stay. And he appears to have complete control over all decisions regarding his future.
“I love it here, man,” he said. “I'm staying in the city, close to everything. I love it here. My family loves it here. I love the people in this organization. Definitely, I want to come back. That's a no-brainer. Having a guy like Paul George here, of course I want to come play with an All-Star. Who doesn't? Definitely want to be back here.”
The way the Pacers are playing now, the way they're winning, nobody would want to leave. They're sharing the ball like no other Pacers team in a decade, and getting contributions from everyone. They're defending at a high rate, too. Milwaukee became the seventh consecutive opponent to fail to shoot 40 percent against them. It was hot early, hitting half of its first-quarter shots to take a 12-point lead, but hit just 2-of-11 in overtime.
The Pacers, meanwhile, hit 4-of-6 shots in the extra period, along with all four free throws. Their chemistry and balance was put on display those last five minutes like never before. C.J. Miles curled off a screen and hit a 3-pointer on an assist from George Hill to get it started. Luis Scola – who finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds and would have been featured more in this story if not for Stuckey's proclamation – scored the next field goal, a 16-footer from the left baseline, after a ball reversal and a bounce pass from David West. West, who had struggled through the first three quarters before finding his rhythm, added a 20-footer on an assist from Hill, then Stuckey hit a step-back 19-footer after a behind-the-back dribble in traffic. Free throws from Stuckey and Hill finished off the scoring.
The win moved the Pacers within 3 ½ games of Milwaukee for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. With 18 games to go, there's plenty of time to catch the Bucks, who have lost eight of their last 11. The players say they're not paying much attention to the standings, though. There's a large board in the hallway outside their locker room leading to the training room that is updated daily, and Vogel makes it a point to remind them, too. Beyond that, they don't seem to care.
“Right now the basketball we're playing is so free and so fun and trusting we don't need to put that type of pressure on it,” Miles said. “The biggest thing we have right now is you see everybody playing hard, and for each other and the smiles and the bench jumping up and down … understanding time and score but at the same time being able to play with confidence.”
Added Hill: “Every guy is trusting one another. Every guy has the mentality they're going to try to get a shot for the next guy.”
Sounds like basketball heaven. Stuckey's been through hell, and doesn't want to go back.
“The reason I came here is to make the playoffs, so that's the focus,” he said. “We've put ourselves in good position right now.”
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