by Adam Figman | @afigman
About 12 months ago, a look down the roster of the ’09-10 Detroit Pistons would reveal a pretty simple fact: that it was no Lottery team. Armed with Motown mainstays Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, new faces Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva (and a returning one in Ben Wallace), and a young core that included Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum, Jonas Jerebko and Austin Daye, there was more than enough talent needed to put together the kind of one-and-done playoff years afforded by squads like the Bucks and the Bobcats that very season.
Unfortunately, these not-so-Bad Boys had no such luck. A serious of injuries kept the rotation in flux, and a solid player chemistry was never developed. They finished 27-55, the franchise’s worst record since ’93-94, and a regression from the ’08-09 group’s 39-43 finish.
Now, after signing comeback-hopeful Tracy McGrady and drafting Georgetown big man Greg Monroe, a 180 is the goal. And that plan rests squarely on the shoulders of the 6-5 Rodney Stuckey, who’s spent the summer preparing to accept his leadership role. SLAM got on the horn with the Washington native, who spoke to us about his recent philanthropy events, the chances of a Pistons turn-around, and what he feels about a teammate declaring that he wants Rodney’s starting point guard spot.
SLAM: I heard you had an event in Detroit a couple weeks ago where you were giving away a whole bunch of backpacks and school supplies. Tell me about that.
Rodney Stuckey: Yeah, it was an event that I planned on doing myself. You know, it’s just time for me to give back to the kids. Detroit’s in hard times right now, economic-wise, so I just try to help out and give out as many backpacks as I can.
SLAM: Was that your first time helping out kids in Detroit, or have you been doing that in the past?
RS: I’ve been doing that. That was my first event that I put on [by myself], but I’ve been helping out though, throughout my past three years there.
SLAM: What else you been up to this summer?
RS: Pretty much just been working out. That’s about it. I’ve been working out, and spending a lot of time with the family.
SLAM: What are you working on, specifically, to become a better player?
RS: I’m just trying to work on my overall game. But this summer I’ve been mainly putting up a lot of shots, trying to make my mid-range and my jumpshot more consistent. I’m also gonna be coming in to training camp in better shape.
SLAM: You guys added T-Mac this summer. What do you think he’ll add to the team?
RS: You know, I think I’m excited for that. I think a lot of people are doubting him. He’s still young; he’s only 31. We all know that his career’s been in hold-up with the injuries and all that. Last year when he played, I mean, shoot, he put up like 20 on us. (Laughs.) So I think if he comes in and stays healthy, which I think he’ll do, because we have the best trainer in the NBA (Arnie Kander), and I think that’ll also help him out. I think he’ll be alright.
SLAM: I think it’s safe to say that you guys were one of the more loaded teams that fell short of the Playoffs last year.
SLAM: What do you think held the Pistons back last season?
RS: Yeah, I think if you look on paper, we’re one of the most dynamic teams in the NBA. I think last year just, you know, injuries really hurt us—a lot guys got injured at all different times during the season. I mean, that happens. And then our chemistry wasn’t there as well. Guys in an out of the lineup—they get back in the lineup, and then it’s just a lot of chaotic stuff. I just think that injuries [hurt us] and really our chemistry was inconsistent. I think when we come in to training camp, everybody’s gonna be healthy, it’s gonna be a battle [and] it’s gonna be fun. And if we just stay healthy and play together, and play defense, we’ll be fine.
SLAM: Have you guys discussed at all what the team’s goals will be for the season?
RS: Well, you know always the ultimate goal is to get to the Playoffs. I think that’s where our mindset’s at. I think we need to get back to what Detroit basketball was before this season and last season as well—as far as getting back to the Eastern Conference Finals and contending for a championship.
SLAM: You have any personal goals for the season?
RS: I just wanna come out and just play. Stay healthy, and I know that I’ll be fine. My basketball’s gonna take care of itself, so if I just come out and stay healthy, and just lead the team, I’ll be happy.
SLAM: For sure. The team’s backcourt is stacked this year—there’s yourself, Will, Ben, TMac, Rip—are there gonna be battles for playing time?
RS: You know, that’s gonna be [Head Coach] John Kuester’s decision. You named all those guys, but we’ve got our younger guys too who are gonna be hungry—like Austin Daye, DaJuan [Summers], and Terrico [White]. So there’s gonna be a fine line, and we’re gonna have to figure out the rotation and all that, which I think we’ll do. And I think if we come out and everybody’s mindset is to pass the ball and share the ball and move the ball and stuff like that, we’ll be fine. And I think that’s gonna lead us a long way this season.
SLAM: Will Bynum said now that he’s getting paid he wants to be a starter. Do you worry about your starting position?
RS: Nah, I’m not worried about that at all. Me and Bynum are really close. I know he’s an excellent player, and you know we’re always competing with each other in practice and stuff like that. But yeah I’m not worried about that. That should be your mindset anyway, that should be your ultimate goal. You should want to be a starter. If I was in his position I would be saying that too, so I respect him saying that. I know we’re gonna have good battles in practice, and it’s only gonna make each of us better.
SLAM: At 6-5, you’ve always been able to play either guard position. Are you focusing on becoming one of the two specifically?
RS: I just go out there and try to master both. I think this year I’ll probably be playing a lot more of the point guard position, just because of the depth that we have at our wings. But again though, you never know what’s going to happen, and I might move back to the 2. I still like playing both positions; I [also] like playing off the ball and not worrying about creating for other people so I can just do my thing as well. But I like playing both positions.
SLAM: Who are you most looking forward to going up against this year? Is there anyone specific?
RS: Nah, there’s nobody specific. I’m just excited to get on another season going. Our season was really long this year, so we’re all just really excited to get going again.
SLAM: Looking around the NBA now, the media seems to be focusing on the teams that added big names over the summer and the teams that went deep in the Playoffs last season. You guys might be getting overlooked—are the Pistons gonna have a chip on the shoulder because of all that?
RS: Yeah, I think we should. I know they have us low in the rankings for pre-season. But hey, that’s how it is when you come off a season like we had. So we’ll see what happens. If we come out with a mindset of playing with each other, and a mindset of playing good defense—because offensively I think we can score on anybody in the League—so if we just come out and play good defense and play with each other and share the ball, I think we’ll be alright.