Pistons third-year shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse is worried about a lockout, extended negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement and other labor strife that might delay the payoff he expects to receive as a free agent this summer. "It was a tough situation, having to deal with the rookie salary cap, because it meant being underpaid for three years," he says. "The owners wanted us to prove ourselves. I have. Now it's time to reap the benefits of free agency."
Yet after averaging 15.8 points and shooting 43.5% from the floor this season, Stackhouse is headed for a rude awakening come contract talks. He figures he'll sign for around $11 million a season; general managers around the NBA put his value at closer to $5 million. "He's not one of those top-tier free agents," says the Nets' John Nash. "He can score, but he hasn't proven he can shoot the ball consistently. We have Kendall Gill, who'll make around $55 million and is similar in that he isn't a pure shooter. Would I trade him for Stackhouse? Probably not."
Stackhouse wouldn't dream of comparing himself to Gill. Though most general managers project Stackhouse as a backup, he believes he's just two notches below Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves' $20.8 million-a-year franchise forward. "If you look at my numbers over the past three years, they compare to anyone's," Stackhouse, 23, says. " Michael Jordan makes what—about $33 million? Tell me I don't deserve a third of what he makes. I'm not saying half, I'm saying a third."
With the 76ers, Stackhouse averaged 20.0 points over two seasons, but he also shot only 41.1% and turned the ball over 3.7 times a game. Stackhouse still fails to grasp the concepts of ball movement and spacing, and it's widely known that he favors his right hand. "I'd challenge him to go left," says Hawks guard Steve Smith, "and you know what? He'd start trying it. The more he couldn't get his shot or the more he'd lose [the ball], the harder he'd try?
The Sixers sent the 6'6" Stack-house packing to Detroit in December after indications that he wanted at least $11 million a year to re-sign. In return Philadelphia received third-year center Theo Ratliff, who has blossomed into a dependable shot blocker and will likely command a better deal than Stackhouse this summer.
In his defense, Stackhouse has had five coaches in three seasons. "And I haven't played with a point guard since I came into the league," he says. "People will best see my talents when I'm with a distributor." Like Jason Kidd? "Exactly. The Suns would be a great situation. That's definitely a viable option."
But sources in Phoenix say that the Suns have no interest in Stackhouse. The Kings, Nuggets and Raptors will have plenty of cap room, but officials on those teams aren't excited about acquiring him either. Stackhouse would rather re-sign with the Pistons, but they, too, are lukewarm about a new deal. As one Detroit source says, "We are quite certain we can live without him."
A Secondary Role
Mullin's Payoff Is the Playoffs
The last time Chris Mullin was in the playoffs, his teammates included Tim Hardaway, Chris Webber and a relatively obscure second-year guard named Latrell Sprewell. That was with the Warriors in 1994. Now Mullin returns to the postseason as a Pacer, but he's no longer a primary weapon. His job is to score a dozen points in about 25 minutes a game and spread the floor for Reggie Miller and Rik Smits. "I could have stayed at Golden State and piled up some numbers, but what good is it to score 18 a night when it doesn't matter?" Mullin, 34, says. "I didn't want to finish as some old washed-up guy. I wanted to be more satisfied than that."