Transition to power: Stuckey shines as Billups' replacement in Detroit
Rodney Stuckey has been solid replacing Chauncey Billups as Detroit's starting PG
Stuckey has sparked the Pistons with his scoring during their current hot streak
More topics: Jameer Nelson's surge; Stephon Marbury all wrong for the Celtics
Replacing a beloved figure is often a recipe for disappointment. Yes, the show, whether it be on TV or on a basketball floor, may go on, but the popularity of the departed leader and the loyalty he generated in those around him are hard to duplicate; the memories of the relationship that was are too fresh.
Rodney Stuckey should be finding this out now, having taken over a starting role in Detroit once held by longtime franchise stalwart Chauncey Billups, whose trade to Denver for Allen Iverson in November hit the Pistons' locker room hard. "It's like I lost a brother, you know?" Rip Hamilton told the Detroit News a few days after the deal.
But Detroit's new point guard is doing his best to help ease the transition. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound second-year player from Eastern Washington has become a driving force during a seven-game winning streak that the Pistons carried into this week. Yes, Detroit has benefited from a favorable portion of the schedule in rebounding from a 9-9 start in the post-Billups era. But Stuckey's production as a starter -- he is averaging 17.8 points, 6.0 assists and 1.6 steals and shooting 50.5 percent from the field in those 16 games -- suggests that Detroit might not suffer as much as many observers expected after president Joe Dumars shipped out the team's star QB.
"I knew when Chauncey was traded I had to be ready to play," Stuckey said the other day in a telephone interview. "But my teammates, coaches and Joe all had faith in me. My role is going to be a lot different, but to be honest with you, I'm going to step it up and be the man and play up to the challenge."
Stuckey, the 15th pick in the 2007 draft, opened plenty of eyes when he averaged 8.2 points and 3.4 assists in 22 minutes in last season's playoffs, a performance all the more impressive considering what little time rookies generally get in the postseason, especially on a veteran-laden team such as the Pistons. Equally important, it offered Dumars the opportunity to speed along the transition to a younger era.
Sending the 32-year-old Billups to Denver not only freed the Pistons of a $60 million contract that stretched four more years, but it also brought them the potential to reap Iverson's $20.8 million expiring deal in salary-cap space over the next two summers. In the meantime, the Pistons are trying to remain in contention and extend their streak of six appearances in the Eastern Conference finals.
"We all miss Chauncey, but he's not here right now so we have to look forward and get better as a team," said Stuckey, who has had 40- and 38-point efforts in recent victories against Chicago and Sacramento, respectively.
"With Tay [Tayshaun Prince] and AI and all of the guys, I just give them the ball first and I just play off of them. ... If I have an advantage at my end, I'm going to exploit it. And when they're open, I'm going to give them the ball. It's all about having good chemistry and having a good group of guys around you who don't complain about not getting the ball."
Stuckey will face his former teammate Friday when the Pistons visit the Nuggets, who have gone 22-9 with Billups in the lineup.
"Chauncey always told me to be aggressive, do your thing and don't think, because when you think, that's when you make mistakes," Stuckey said.
Stuckey hasn't made many for a team that still ranks among the league's elite.
Jameer Nelson's emergence. The Magic point guard averaged 18.7 points and 5.3 assists in December, shooting 56.8 percent from the field and 56.3 percent from three-point range. Orlando went 12-3 in the month.
Emeka Okafor's production. Why did the Bobcats go a semi-respectable 6-10 in December? How about because Okafor posted 11 double-doubles and averaged 17.8 points on 60.6 percent shooting.
Wilson Chandler's coming-out party. The NBA sophomore out of DePaul punctuated a sweet five-game stretch (in which he averaged 19.8 points and 6.2 rebounds) by finishing with 31 points and eight rebounds Sunday as New York snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Celtics.
The Bulls' chemistry. In the wake of on-court bickering between Andres Nocioni and Joakim Noah during a 117-92 loss to the Cavs last Friday comes news that Noah, Larry Hughes and Tyrus Thomas have been fined for bucking a team rule not to eat in the locker room before games. Unhappy teammates. Nitpicking rules. An inability to win on the road. Seems the rebuilding process will never end in Chicago.
Charles Barkley's moral authority. Sir Charles has done more good for the game of basketball and in discussing race relations in this country than most people in the public spotlight. But after getting arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and admitting he ran a stop sign en route to an intimate encounter with a woman he picked up earlier in the evening, Barkley's attacks on others will ring hollow. Time likely will revive Barkley's bite, but for now he'll have to be satisfied to play the merry prankster many of his fans assume he is.
Nenad Krstic's immediate future. Welcome back to the NBA! The Nets decided not to match an offer sheet that brought the big man back to the United States from Russia to play for the NBA's version of Siberia: the 4-30 Thunder.
An NBA scout assesses Ron Artest's impact in the veteran forward's first two-plus months with the Rockets. Artest, who has struggled with an ankle injury, is averaging 16.0 points (on 37.3 percent shooting) and 5.5 rebounds in 30 games.
"What you hope is that he's in a situation -- meaning how good of a team you are -- where he is a positive. And for this team, that's how I look at it. He has a responsibility to guys like Yao Ming. He can't just go there and not be accountable. This team has a chance to contend, and because of that there's a natural checks and balances. I don't necessarily see a lot of strong-willed, leader-type guys on that team who are going to keep Ron in place, but when you're winning, and you know you're going to win 50 games, that tends to keep people in check. It's like when Dennis Rodman went to Chicago.
"On the floor, he provides something this team didn't have: toughness. He's a guy who won't back down from anyone in the league and who will take on the other team's leading scorer, whether he's a wing player or a big man. And, of course, he's still a guy who can give you 20 or 25 points on a given night. By and large, they're running their continuity, high-post offense. But Artest presents unique matchup difficulties because normally he's being guarded by an opposing wing. A lot of times, especially when teams go small, Houston will look to post him and take advantage of mismatches, and he's generally so much stronger than the guy guarding him that he can succeed in that situation."
They said it
"Don't repeat 2008."
"There's how many people in the world, 10 billion? And there's only 300 people in the NBA. Wouldn't you have enough pride to go out there and compete? [I'm] not even saying [how] you're getting paid to do it, that it's your job, that's your 9 to 5, [that] you get a check for this. ... Wouldn't you have enough pride to say, 'Well, I'm one of the 300 people who's in the NBA,' and go out there and compete for your recognition?"
"I'll do it every single game if it gets us wins. Hey, everyone will be fired up. Everyone will be excited. Get L-Frank off the court. It will be good for our team."
Blog Maverick: Interesting (or insane) idea from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for the NBA to underwrite the cost of additional newspaper beat reporters for each team -- while not asking for editorial control.
Los Angeles Times: It seems coaches aren't the only figures in sports obsessed with breaking down video of their opponents, as Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner find out in detailing yet another aspect of the game's most competitive player, Kobe Bryant.
The Oregonian: For most, being home is a good thing. In the NBA, home can only add to the pressure, as Geoffrey C. Arnold reports.
1. Sorry, but if the Hawks are going to puff their chests about a budding rivalry with the Celtics and openly take aim at 50 wins, they had better finish off New Jersey (5-12 at home) when they have a 20-point halftime lead. That means demonstrating they can do more than talk defense and actually get out and defend the three-point line when the Nets use it as a launching pad. In short, that means taking care of business when it's there to be taken care of.
2. So the Celtics drop three of four on a West Coast trip and follow that up with a loss at New York and the prescription is ... Stephon Marbury? The Knicks headache' isn't Dennis Rodman, a unique personality whose quirks overshadowed his effectiveness as a key complement to a winning team. Marbury is someone whose personality undermines his effectiveness as a key complement to any team. And unlike the usual P.J. Brown-like pickup title contenders make, Marbury has rarely talked about a burning desire to win, the kind of selfless attitude that keeps difficult personalities in check on winning teams. In other words, buyer beware, Danny Ainge.
3. If each team could make one New Year's resolution for its fans, please let it be to cut down on the barrage of fluff during a game. From the videos to the fan cams to the music to the T-shirt tosses, fans' senses are assaulted as soon as they take their seat and aren't eased until they leave the building. When a nose-bleed seat can cost $75, we understand teams' desire to entertain, but with so little time to digest what's happening on the floor, the game often feels like just another distraction.