As Rodney Stuckey sat on a green chair inside the interview room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, I couldn’t help but be impressed with his demeanor and attitude as he begins a new chapter of his life. He’s staying in the Central Division, but joining the Indiana Pacers after spending his first seven seasons in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons.
He made it official by signing a one-year deal Monday morning for $1,227,985, the veteran’s minimum (for a player with seven years of experience). What Stuckey brings is a fresh mindset as he looks to jumpstart his career.
“I’ve been in Detroit for sevens years, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of different situations, a lot of different coaches – six in seven years,” he said. “But you live and learn, you grow from every situation. I just want to thank Detroit for giving me that opportunity to make my NBA dreams come true by drafting me. It’s a fresh start, and I’m excited for it.”
The 15th pick in the 2007 draft by the Pistons, Stuckey was part of a team that won 59 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the eventual champs, the Boston Celtics, in six games.
But over the next six seasons, his Pistons teams failed to crack .500, and never won more than 39 games. Their combined win total from the past two seasons (58) fell one win short of that 2007-08 season.
“I hate losing,” he said. “It’s never fun when you’re losing, especially when you have to go through it for 82 games. I think if you win, everyone looks good.”
Meantime, the Pacers sent two to last year’s All-Star game — plus the coaching staff. They won 56 games, had the East’s No. 1 seed, and made it back to the conference finals for the second straight year.
The competition is going to be more fierce this year, and that’s a good thing. How dull was it for much of last season just waiting for the regular season could end so the Pacers and Miami Heat could battle once again for the chance to move on to the NBA Finals?
Since, Chicago made upgrades by signing Pau Gasol, drafting sharpshooter Doug McDermott, and hopefully getting a healthy Derrick Rose back. And then, of course, LeBron and his posse returned to Cleveland, and with that, the Central Division is no longer a joke.
As former Pacer Lance Stephenson chased the best offer possible (all the way to Charlotte), it was the culture and situation that was atop Stuckey’s wish list.
“Growing up I didn’t have money so money is not really an issue to me,” said Stuckey, who made $8.5 million last season. “It’s pretty much just starting over and being on a great team, being with a great organization, and that’s what I was looking for. That opportunity.”
In a sense, Stuckey is filling much of Stephenson’s void, just in a simpler fashion. He’s a quiet man, humble by nature, who is strictly business. Addition by subtraction, anyone?
“Rodney is a very talented player who can create and score in a variety of ways,” said Pacers President Larry Bird. “We’re very happy to get a player with his experience and who has made it very clear of his desire to win.”
Indiana has an opportunity for him, that we know. How large of one, however, is yet to be determined. That’s because it’s rather unlikely that the roster is set.
With the signing of Stuckey, the Pacers now have the maximum of 15 players under contract, though three (Luis Scola, Donald Sloan, and Shayne Whittington) do not have guaranteed deals. It’s very possible that Bird makes a move via trade in the next couple of months should he be able to find a willing partner. It’s not too late.
At the end of July last summer, he finally got his guy in Luis Scola from Phoenix. It wasn’t until mid-August when they acquired Darren Collison from New Orleans back in 2010.
Last season in Detroit, Stuckey shot 43.6 percent and averaged 13.9 points per game. His 27 percent shooting from long range is alarming, but he was bothered by a right shoulder injury, which is fine now, and his top focus this offseason is improving his shot.
He is spending much of his offseason back home in Covington, Washington. He acquired the keys to his high school gym, Kentwood, and has been going through two workouts a day. He’s eager to talk with his new teammates for the first time and get to work.
“I know I’m not going to have a problem fitting in with these guys,” said Stuckey. “I’m very humble, I’m laid back, I’m very respectful, and I think we’re all going to get along with each other very well.
“I got to come in and everyone’s respect first and foremost, and just fit in. I’m not trying to come in and try to doing nothing out of the ordinary. I’m just trying to come in, be level-headed, learn from these guys, just play hard with them and compete with them.”
Unlike his other 14 teammates, Stuckey is NOT on Twitter. And that’s fine by him.
“No social media for me,” he said. “I’m not that kind of guy. That’s not me. I’m very private with my life and I just don’t have time for that.”
With Indy native George Hill wearing No. 3, Stuckey is wiping his slate completely clean and will have a new number in addition to a different jersey.
“I’m going to wear No. 2 because it’s a fresh start, second time around,” he said. He wore 32 in high school and then 3 in college at Eastern Washington.
Stucket reiterated what seemed like a dozen times how excited he was for this new opportunity to be part of something great. Nothing is set in the Eastern Conference, but the Pacers are expected to be near or at the top, along with Chicago and Cleveland, and making a long run in the postseason.
“Winning. Playoffs. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I’m all about,” Stuckey said. “It’s not fun having the whole summer to do nothing. I just want to play basketball.”
“I knew that Indiana was always a great organization and they win. That’s what I’m all about, man. I want to win. That’s what’s most important.”
(Listen to Rodney Stuckey talk with local reporters in the embedded media player below, or click here.)