Rodney Stuckey, who is making $8.5 million this season, is set to become an unrestricted free agent. (Duane Burleson / Associated Press)
Charlotte, N.C. — It was a quiet topic of conversation in pockets of the Pistons’ locker room, but the people least surprised by the Pistons’ lack of activity at Thursday’s trade deadline were the players themselves.
Despite having the expiring contracts of Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva, usually magnets for viable trade offers in recent years, the Pistons either didn’t receive an offer to their liking or never had true intentions of making any moves.
Perhaps it’s more the latter, considering a few players had gotten indications nothing was going to happen — particularly after first-year head coach Maurice Cheeks was shockingly fired on a Sunday afternoon, right before the All-Star break.
The only big move leaguewide was the Indiana Pacers tinkering with their chemistry, sending Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for fourth-year forward Evan Turner, a player primed to hit restricted free agency, but who will make a stop in Indy in the attempt to dethrone the Heat this spring.
As for the Pistons, no one — not Stuckey, Villanueva or even Greg Monroe — seemed overly concerned about the deadline coming up. Monroe said he didn’t know the deadline was Thursday afternoon. Backup point guard Will Bynum said he would spend that time at the practice facility to get some shots up.
It’s pretty rare to see such a nonchalant approach with a stressful team — particularly with an underachieving team.
“I think guys don’t really pay attention to it. We can’t control it,” Stuckey said. “It’s all in the GM’s hands and owner’s hands. We pretty much wait and see on what happens.”
The Pistons’ front office was well aware of a couple of needs preventing the team from solidifying itself as a truly viable playoff participant. But since no white smoke blew from the chapel at The Palace, internal improvement will have to be what carries the team to respectability — if it is to climb out of its current doldrums, caused by taking two losses from the Charlotte Bobcats, the team between them and the postseason.
“If we string along some wins, everybody will be positive and we can ride off that,” Bynum said. “I don’t think they totally broke down our confidence to where we can’t win games. It’s not crushed, they just had our number these last two games. We’re more frustrated.”
So Stuckey’s unrestricted free agency will be fully in his hands in July, while Villanueva can certainly approach the club and ask for a buyout so he can possibly latch onto a team willing to give him an opportunity — if there’s a team out there.
Monroe’s restricted free agency, in which the Pistons will have likely competition in the form of the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks? Tabled, along with every other critical decision the organization faces, until the offseason, one that’s shaping up to reveal plenty of clarity involving all levels of leadership.
“We want to make a push for the playoffs, and it has to start now,” Monroe said. “I’m going about things normally. As far as we know, any talk about anything, we’re getting ready to finish the season.”
As for the remaining 28 games, the Pistons are only 2.5 games out of a playoff spot, but with a difficult schedule on the horizon, it’s not a surprise to see cracks in the team’s already fragile emotional state.
“Confidence level? I’m happy, I’m fine,” Stuckey said. “I can’t really say anything about my teammates but I’m in good spirits. I think everyone is still in good spirits. You never want to lose, you don’t play to lose.”
Hawks at Pistons
Tipoff: Friday, 7:30, The Palace
TV/Radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Records: Pistons 22-32, Hawks 25-28
Outlook: The Hawks have lost seven games in a row while the Pistons have dropped three straight…The Hawks traded for veteran forward Antawn Jamison, whom they plan to buy out…The Pistons are 4-5 in February.