Ron Hoskins - NBAE/Getty Images
Stuckey Ready for Fresh Start, New Identity
Seven seasons into his NBA career, Rodney Stuckey's role and reputation remain murkier than ever.
PHOTOS: Rodney Stuckey Career Gallery »
Is he a starter or reserve?
A point guard or a shooting guard?
A good guy or a troublemaker?
The case could be made for any of the above, and in fact already has been in Detroit, where Stuckey contributed to – or perhaps merely survived – a most peculiar set of circumstances. Taken with the 15th pick in the 2007 draft and earmarked to succeed Chauncey Billups at point guard, Stuckey wound up in perpetual purgatory, struggling to find an identity.
He started 265 games and came off the bench for 218 more, sometimes at his own request. He played both guard positions, and, most significantly of all, he played for six head coaches, all of whom were either incompetent or victims of their own set of circumstances. As anyone who has worked for someone else can tell you, not fitting with your boss can directly impact performance and attitude, not to mention employment status. And Stuckey's attitude suffered on occasion.
He refused to enter the game in the second half once when Lawrence Frank was coaching the Pistons, earning a one-game suspension. He also showed up late for a road game-day shootaround when John Kuester was taking his turn on the merry-go-round. But at least he showed up. Some of his teammates did not, and the Pistons dressed just six players that night.
Opinions of Stuckey in Detroit were appropriately mixed. A blogger for the Detroit Free Press in January of 2013 blamed him for all his troubles, and urged that he be traded. But a columnist for Detroit News called him a "victim of circumstances" after he signed with the Pacers in July, citing the impact of the coaching carousel and the distress of five consecutive losing seasons.
Stuckey doesn't invest much time in reflecting on his time in Detroit. In short: he has a lot of fond memories and learned a lot and is ready to move on, thank you.
“That's the past, man,” he said. “Those days are behind me.”
There's one rarely-discussed factor, however, that had a major impact on his career in Detroit. He was brought in as an understudy to Billups, the acknowledged leader of the Pistons and the MVP of the NBA Finals in 2004,when they won the championship. Stuckey had a promising rookie season backing up Billups and then took over as the starter after Billups was injured in the second round of the playoffs and helped the team into the Eastern Conference finals.
Billups was the perfect mentor for a young point guard, and the perfect leader for any team. So when Billups was traded to Denver for Allen Iverson one week into the 2008-09 season, Stuckey suffered for it.
“Once Chauncey was traded, everything went downhill from there,” Stuckey said. “Chauncey was the glue who held everything together. Once he was traded, it was a domino effect. One thing after another. Something happened, then this happened, that happened. So it was tough, you know?
“You go from this guy who's been an All-Star and Finals MVP to a guy like Allen Iverson who's a completely different type of player. Chauncey was the leader, the role model. Allen Iverson was a scorer, a guy who just gets buckets. He can give you 40 if you want him to. And then you have Rip (Hamilton) on the other side that you need to get the ball to and you can't forget about Tayshaun (Prince). It was a tough situation. It was a lot that was thrown at one person at one time. I was just trying to figure stuff out. But it happened the way it happened. You learn from each experience.”
Stuckey doesn't give off the vibe of a malcontent. He's soft-spoken, well-spoken and polite. He had no reported troubles getting along with coaches in high school or college at Eastern Washington, and no bad rap entering the draft, and didn't have problem with all of his Pistons coaches. He was a favorite of Mo Cheeks, for example.
So, there's no reason to believe he'll have problems with the Pacers. He'll be in a more stable environment, with a winning coach who'll be around awhile, and he's on a one-year contract. He has the opportunity to revive his career, and clear his name. And, even with the loss of Paul George, he has the best opportunity he's had in awhile to play on a winning team.
“I don't like losing,” he said. “Sometimes in Detroit, we'd be close in a game and be losing and people would be OK with it because it was a close game and we played hard. But we still lost. I don't accept that. I want to win. That's where a lot of the conflict came from. I'm a competitor, man. I don't like losing. I don't come out here just to get a sweat and lose and be happy. That's not me. I try to compete each and every night and let the chips fall.”
Stuckey doesn't want to be categorized, other than shedding the questions about attitude. Like Stephenson, whom he'll likely replace in the starting lineup alongside George Hill in the backcourt, he's a hybrid guard who is more of a slasher than a shooter. Coach Frank Vogel considers him faster than Stephenson, but not as strong. He also lacks Stephenson's hard edge. That's both a positive and a negative.
In his exhibition debut on Tuesday, when he scored nine points in 15 minutes, Stuckey was pretty much as advertised. He attacked the basket in transition and in the halfcourt, hitting three driving layups, and added a 19-foot jumper. He won't be much of a three-point threat (he's a 29 percent career shooter) but he's a proven scorer. He averaged 16.6 points in his third NBA season. He once scored 40 against a Chicago rookie named Derrick Rose, and 38 against Sacramento.
The Pacers don't need that. They'll take his career average of 13.4 points, or the 13.8 that Stephenson averaged last season. That's how similar they are.
“They're the same player,” Hill said.
“From a toughness standpoint, Stuckey is right there,” David West added. “He's a little less flash (than Stephenson), but he's tough. And he makes mid-range plays.”
Stuckey will need to be tough. But he can't afford to be difficult. He doesn't plan to be.
“I just want to play basketball, man,” he said. “I'm not worried about media, not worried about what people say. I'm just blessed to be in the position I'm in. All the other stuff will take care of itself. Everything else, I really don't care.”
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.