Rodney Stuckey recalls 'ups and downs' with Pistons
Auburn Hills — As his usual custom, Rodney Stuckey took extra jumpers after morning shootaround, in preparation for the night's game.
The evening before, Stuckey hung out with one of his best friends, Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko, at Jerebko's home in Metro Detroit — as if Stuckey was still a Piston.
But Stuckey ventured into the visitor's locker room for the first time Friday, hours before facing his old team for the first time since departing Detroit for Indiana last summer.
"I've never been inside the visitor's locker room," Stuckey said. "But naw, just playing against Detroit now. A lot of good memories, a lot of ups and downs, but it is what it is."
One of the good memories was the full buildings Stuckey played in front of as a rookie during the 2007-08 season, when he was wide-eyed and full of promise during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, as the Pistons were trying to keep their hopes alive for a third Finals appearance with that core.
"I remember when they used to have the little sign up there," said Stuckey, referring to the 200-plus game sellout streak the Pistons had at The Palace. "Obviously it's not there anymore."
That was the last big game Stuckey played in as a Piston, as he came off the bench behind point guard Chauncey Billups. The loss triggered a start in tearing down a contender, which Stuckey said was the one thing he wishes he could've changed during his seven-year tenure in Detroit.
"Yeah I wish they wouldn't have traded Chauncey the first time, to be honest with you," Stuckey said. "I wish they would've taken the Spurs philosophy of keeping all their vets and putting young guys around their vets. You see how successful they are."
"You see when Chauncey left, that's when everything went downhill. Chauncey was the glue that held everything together and held everyone accountable. Once you trade away that, you see what happens. It was a domino effect. If I were to say one thing that would be it."
The defending-champion Spurs kept veterans Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker around, while adding a piece like Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard through a draft-day trade a couple of years ago — but their centerpiece and anchor always has been Tim Duncan, universally recognized as perhaps the best power forward to ever play.
In the Pistons' case, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince were never the individual wonders of Ginobili and Parker, while they never had a player like Duncan — and lest anyone forget, one reason the Pistons traded Billups in 2008 was to make room for Stuckey to grow and flourish.
It never materialized, as Stuckey struggled, under different coaches, playing different positions and the organization being in limbo after the death of owner William Davidson. But the Pistons did let go of a couple of young pieces in that time to acquire what they felt were more polished guys, in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, in free agency.
"Amir (Johnson) was a good talent. (Arron) Afflalo, but it is what it is," Stuckey said. "We can't go back and change it. They're in a rebuilding stage. Hopefully things turn around."
Stuckey never filled Billups' shoes — and seemingly wanted to blend in as opposed to leading. He and former coaches John Kuester feuded, while the same happened with Lawrence Frank — a never-ending cycle of a rebuild that never completely took hold.
So when Stuckey thinks of his former mates, he knows that unfortunately, they have experience in the matter.
"They have to stay positive, this isn't the first time, it's been happening the last 5-6 years," Stuckey said.