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CENTRAL: 9 DETROIT Pistons
Mark Bechtel
November 01, 1999
Jerry Stackhouse is ready to work with Grant Hill, but not to worship him
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November 01, 1999

Central: 9 Detroit Pistons

Jerry Stackhouse is ready to work with Grant Hill, but not to worship him

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By the Numbers

1998-99 record: 29-21 (fifth in Eastern Conference) Coach: Alvin Gentry (third season with Pistons)

1998-99 PER GAME AVERAGE

POINT (rank)

FG% (rank)

REBOUNDS (rank)

TURNOVERS (rank)

PISTONS

90.4 (20)

44.7 (10)

40.3 (20)

15.8 (18)

OPPONENTS

86.9 (7)

43.6 (13)

38.5 (1)

15.4 (16)

Earlier this year Pistons shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse was telling a reporter how excited he was about the 1999-2000 campaign. "I just look at next year," Stackhouse said. "It's all I can focus on. I just have to put in a lot of work to make sure I have myself ready." While it's admirable that Stackhouse was rarin' to get the upcoming season under way, it should be noted that when he gave the interview, the 1998-99 season was still going on.

You can't blame Stackhouse for wanting to write off last season—even before it ended. After all, there are bad years, and then there is Jerry Stackhouse's 1999. His 45-year-old sister, Lois, died of diabetes last February, six years after his sister Jean, 44, died of the same disease. Doctors informed Stackhouse that there was a high probability that his child, due in September, would be born with Down's syndrome. He dotted the eye of forward Christian Laettner on a team flight following an argument over a card game. That incident, coupled with rumors that he was feuding with All-Star forward Grant Hill, gave the 24-year-old Stackhouse an unseemly reputation.

On the court things weren't much better. His starting job was given to Joe Dumars, who was making a farewell circuit in his 14th season—and coming off the bench didn't agree with Stackhouse. His scoring average dipped to 14.5 points, 4.7 fewer than when he was an all-rookie pick for the 76ers four years ago. He shot 37.1% from the floor. He was seldom around at crunch time. "With all those other things weighing on your mind," Stackhouse says, "basketball can get lost."

The Pistons hope Stackhouse is ready to put last year's miseries behind him and find his game, because whether or not they can advance past the first round of the playoffs, something they haven't done since 1990-91, will depend largely on his play. "I look at last year as a 50-game fluke season," Stackhouse says. "I've got it out of my mind." With Dumars retired, Stackhouse knows he will be in at the start and at the finish, and get lots of minutes in between. "I know I've got time to get into the flow of the game," he says.

His coach agrees. "You'll see a more relaxed player," says Alvin Gentry. "Other man Grant, he's the most important player on our team." While he's not the long-range shooter Dumars was, Stackhouse is more of a threat to drive to the hole. He also has a decent midrange J, which will fit nicely in the up-tempo game now favored by Gentry.

Detroit will have to run more now that Bison Dele has told the team he'd rather spend his time home on the range than playing center. The 30-year-old Dele, whose numerous business interests include a water-purification system in Lebanon, told the league last week that he intends to retire. At times last season it appeared that he already had. But even on a bad night, Dele is more skilled than any of Gentry's other options in the pivot, namely Eric Montross (whose free throw shooting got so hopeless last year that he tried firing bank shots and jumpers) and 6'8" Don Reid. "We'll play somebody there, and they'll do a good job for us," Gentry says, feverishly rubbing a rabbit's foot. (O.K., he wasn't rubbing a rabbit's foot, but he should have been.)

At least the 6'11" Laettner is healthy after missing most of last season with Achilles tendon and rib injuries. Though he averaged just 7.6 points and 3.4 rebounds, the Pistons were 13-3 when he played. Terry Mills and Loy Vaught are versatile, experienced big bodies, and fourth-year man Jerome Williams blossomed into a reliable rebounder, snagging 7.0 boards in just 23.1 minutes a game. "You can't win in the playoffs without establishing a low-post game," says guard Michael Curry. "We've just got to make do. We've got big guards on this team, so we can reverse the roles and post up Jerry and Grant, and let Terry, Loy and Christian shoot jumpers."

Without a scoring center or a viable three-point threat, the offensive burden is going to fall on Hill and Stackhouse, so it is essential that the two play nice. The feud talk began when Stackhouse was critical of Hill during a slide last season, a heretical position to take in the Motor City. "Every time I do an interview or talk about our team, I'm not going to pay homage to Grant," says Stackhouse. "That was the custom around here before I came. Not that I don't like him or respect what he does, but we're a team. I don't see it as a feud. It's a lack of communication. Up until now we didn't feel it was necessary to communicate. Now it's more important than it's ever been, because we're the main fixtures on this team."

For his part Hill has suggested that Gentry make Stackhouse, with him, a co-captain. To facilitate communication, Hill also requested that the Pistons bring back Curry, a free agent who was with the team from 1995 to '97 In just five years in the league Curry has earned a reputation for being one of the best locker room influences around. He doesn't think mentoring Stackhouse will be that hard. "The kid comes into the league on a Philadelphia team that's terrible, that can't teach you anything about what the NBA is really about," says Curry. "But when you put him in a positive environment, everything is going to be fine."

Plus, it looks like the kid's luck might be changing. On Sept. 2 Stackhouse's daughter, Alexis, was born. She was perfectly healthy. Her birth capped a summer in which Stackhouse went back to North Carolina to finish up his degree in African-American studies. His heavy course load included a biology lab that required him to dissect a frog and a fetal pig, but he still found time to work on his game between classes.

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