Lean and Hungry

His 5-year-old daughter Lexi off to kindergarten, Rodney Stuckey flew back to Michigan from Seattle on Tuesday night and spent Wednesday morning passing out backpacks to underprivileged Michigan kids also about to return to school.

Then it was off to school himself – Camp Kander. Stuckey will spend the next four weeks at the Pistons’ practice facility working with Arnie Kander getting ready for the opening of training camp. And on Sept. 27, when trainer Mike Abdenour dutifully records all the heights and weights, Stuckey will be curious to know where the needle on the scale will settle.

More accurately, he’ll be curious to know how much less he weighs since last season ended.

“I haven’t gotten on a scale yet,” he said. “The 27th will be the first time I’ll be on the scale. I’m looking forward to (learning) how much weight I lost. It looks like I lost a lot of weight, right? I think I just toned up a lot. My clothes fit a lot different. I’ve got to poke holes inside my belt because I’m losing a lot of weight. I’ve just been working hard, staying focused and just working out.”

There were two areas of focus for Stuckey over the off-season: getting in superb condition so he can walk the walk – he said at various points last season that he wanted to run and do more to force tempo – and making his perimeter shot more reliable. He also took to heart a postseason conversation with Joe Dumars, who told him that while he had been a good player over his first three seasons, “sometimes good isn’t good enough.”

“My main thing was just coming in to training camp in better shape and just get a lot more shots up,” he said. “Pretty much what I have to worry about is making my shot more consistent. I think if I do that, I’ll be fine.”

Stuckey two years ago was one of the stars of the U.S. Select team that helped the 2008 U.S. Olympic team in its run for the gold in Beijing and appeared on a course to be part of USA Basketball. Instead, with almost all of the 2008 Olympians taking the summer off, a group of young guards whose stock has surpassed Stuckey’s in the eyes of USA Basketball helped the Americans run their pool play record to 4-0 with Wednesday’s win over Iran.

That group includes four guards who’ve come into the league since Stuckey was drafted No. 15 by Dumars in 2007 – 2008 draftees Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon and 2009 lottery pick Stephen Curry.

“It is what it is,” Stuckey said Wednesday. “They’re doing well, but it doesn’t really sting at all. I’m just out here working, trying to get better.”

Stuckey is aware that expectations for his team are similarly depressed – and he is similarly unmoved.

“I don’t really care,” he said of the bulk of analysts’ projections that forecast the Pistons outside the playoff field. “It’s their job to do that. It’s our job to go out there and perform.”

The motivation for Stuckey, both individually and for the team he intends to make more his than ever before, comes from the disappointment of last season, not from skeptics.

“If we’re healthy, we’ll be a lot better team,” he said. “Just by that one game, Memphis” – the season opener, a 20-point road win, culminating in Rip Hamilton’s sprained ankle that began their season of misfortune – “when we came out, we were clicking. Hopefully, we stay healthy this year and we’ll make a lot of noise. We’re really deep in the backcourt. We’ll be all right if we just come out and stay healthy and just play together and get our chemistry right.”

That backcourt – already numbering Stuckey, Will Bynum, Ben Gordon and Rip Hamilton – got deeper with the August signing of Tracy McGrady. As a teen just hoping to make his mark on the Seattle prep scene, Stuckey was a big fan of McGrady’s, at the time right there with Kobe Bryant on any list of most prolific scorers.

“I’m really happy,” Stuckey said of the addition. “I’ve been reading a lot of stuff on the Internet – people think he’s too old. I still think he has a lot left in the tank. He’s only 31 years old. We’re all excited for him. I can’t wait to meet him and I can’t wait to get on the court with him.

“McGrady was one (of his favorite players) and he still is. I’m still a fan of his. I’m just happy he’s going to come in here and I get to work with an All-Star. I think we’re all excited.”

How the pieces come together remains to be seen with Stuckey as curious as anyone.

“It’s going to be interesting,” he said. “It’s going to be a battle. But it’s a good thing. We’re really deep. We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be fun.”