Rodney Stuckey didn't fulfill expectations as a Piston. (Clarence Tabb Jr / Detroit News)
Rodney Stuckey signed with the Pacers as a free agent this week, ending his seven-year tenure with the Pistons. He was supposed to serve as a bridge from one era of contention to another, but his became a cautionary tale of unfair or unrealistic expectations.
We can debate what was the biggest reason Stuckey didn’t fulfill the promise the organization saw in him: if it was the six coaches in seven years, the fact Stuckey never appeared to want the burden or the pressure of being “The Man” or if the organization was never stable enough with positive influences who would allow Stuckey to grow and flourish.
It’s likely a combination of all three, and Stuckey will likely leave Detroit as a symbol of everything that went wrong since the Pistons’ run of six straight Eastern Conference finals appearances ended in 2008.
Worlds ago, it feels like, when Stuckey emerged during the 2008 playoffs after Chauncey Billups pulled a hamstring in the second round against the Magic. Stuckey stepped in admirably, on a team full of veterans ready for another championship run, and played steadily, looking nothing like a rookie point guard in a pressure situation.
Juxtapose that with what happened a couple of years later, when he and then-coach John Kuester couldn’t see eye-to-eye on anything.
You get the feeling Kuester would’ve told Stuckey the sky was blue that day and Stuckey would’ve asked an assistant coach to go check the validity of Kuester’s claims.
What the organization couldn’t measure was how much Stuckey needed stability within the locker room, and ironically, the trade that was meant to open up the world to Stuckey was actually the first step in ensuring he never reached the level his physical skills deemed he should.
Billups was sent back to his hometown of Denver, in favor of Allen Iverson’s expiring contract and, unbeknownst to anyone in the Pistons’ front office, diminished effectiveness on the floor.
Oh he showed glimpses of greatness, such as a Dec. 23 date against the Bulls and a rookie named Derrick Rose. By the end of the night, Stuckey lit up Rose for 40.
Circumstances will never be perfect, but the chance was there.
Stuckey was given opportunities to step up and take the mantle, but the environment wasn’t right, and he wasn’t ready.
Stuckey needed a big brother on the floor to help work through situations and to keep him focused on the bigger picture — not on the glaring inadequacies of Kuester or Lawrence Frank.
By the time Stuckey began to truly figure out the point guard position — one of leadership, headiness and smarts — it was so chaotic it was impossible to notice in the 2010-11 season, where he averaged 15.5 points and 5.2 assists on 44 percent shooting.
His assist-to-turnover ratio improved and so did his shot selection, but the intangibles began to pile up.
Kuester couldn’t control anything on the floor or off, and frustration began to wear on virtually everybody when the reality began to set in that change wouldn’t come for a long time, resulting in a mutiny in Philadelphia at which over half the team skipped the morning shoot-around in protest.
Stuckey did arrive, albeit late, and the damage was done. The team had to move on, in theory, and drafted Brandon Knight to play point guard. The rest almost seems like a blur.
He was one of the few who didn’t have problems with Maurice Cheeks before he was fired 50 games into the season, one of the few who didn’t cause much of a ripple in the locker room last year.
A change was needed for both sides, and Stuckey is now in the position where he took far less to go to a Pacers team that appears on the cusp of breaking through in the Eastern Conference.
If he’s ready and grown up from the situations he’s seen and taken part in, the Pacers will get quite the bargain, as he signed for the veteran’s minimum. And Stuckey can begin to fulfill a little bit of the hope many had in him all those years ago — just in another uniform.