Detroit views the versatile Rodney Stuckey as a "sixth starter" after his strong performance late last season.
For the third straight year and the fourth time in his career, Rasheed Wallace hit 100 three-pointers and blocked 100 shots. He is the only player in NBA history to have had more than one such season.
Record: 59-23 (2nd in East) Points scored: 97.5 (17th in NBA) Points allowed: 190.1 (1st)
As the window closes on this veteran group, one rising star offers a glimpse of the future
After the Pistons fell to the Celtics in the Eastern finals lastseason, a livid Joe Dumars put the entire team on notice. The first casualty:coach Flip Saunders, who was fired four days after the decisive Game 6 andreplaced with assistant Michael Curry. "I'm open to moving anybody," saidDumars, the club president. "There are no sacred cows here."
The player who was closest to untouchable? Second-year guard Rodney Stuckey."He was the last guy we would have moved," Curry says. "With older All-Stars,you look at their window at that high level, and it's always closing. Stuckeyhad the widest window, so naturally he would've been the hardest to giveup."
The Detroit brass loves Stuckey's build (6-foot-5, 205 pounds), salary (amere $1.7 million) and stretch-run performance (he averaged14.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists in just27.3 minutes in April and scored 13 or more points three times in theseries against the Celtics). So although he'll be coming off the bench againthis year -- Curry plans to use him as a "sixth starter," since Dumars wound up notmaking any significant changes to the roster -- expectations are higher. "I'm justhappy that [the team is] the same," says Stuckey. "I'm going to come in likelast year and play hard."
Stuckey's development, of course, could make one of the Pistons' veteranguards, Chauncey Billups or Rip Hamilton, expendable. "There's a sense ofurgency here, but those guys know it's not personal," says Curry. "The startersare very aware that we're not afraid to put our young players on the court. Andcompetition is only going to make us better." -- Pablo S. Torre
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