Could Rodney Stuckey’s Holdout Cost Him a Starting Job?

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison under a Creative Commons license.

The tough negotiations between restricted free agent guard Rodney Stuckey and the Detroit Pistons has been centered mostly about the money. The fact that a fourth-year guard who still has holes in his game turned down a five-year, $45 million contract is certainly what fans are gravitating to. But there is another aspect of the story that could be just as important — the fact that Stuckey has missed nearly all of training camp.

The abbreviated schedule means that teams are cramming a lot of practice time into a short window, with the Pistons first game Dec. 26, less than two weeks away. And also consider that the Pistons have a new coach and a new offensive and defensive scheme to learn. Every team was allowed a certain number of “two a days,” basically extended practices, and head coach Lawrence Frank has been frontloading his two-a-days into the early portion of training camp as part of a crash course.

It is not a subject lost on the other players. Will Bynum spoke with Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News from the perspective of being a player who went through his own drawn out contract squabbles with the Pistons last offseason. But Bynum, who ironically would be first in line to start if Stuckey isn’t ready, talked about how important training camp was.

Bynum’s contract — a sticking point because of his long road to the NBA — was resolved before training camp, so even he can’t fully understand what Stuckey’s feeling.

“For him, training camp’s almost over with,” Bynum said. “To miss all this time, with whatever decision he makes, to miss all this time is kind of critical.”

If and when Stuckey signs, he’ll have to adjust to a new coach and probably experience even more of a crash course than his teammates have with Lawrence Frank.

“Learning your teammates and developing a new style, new defensive principles, you could possibly be so far behind,” Bynum said. “When you do come, everything’s going to be that much more compact whenever you do decide or whenever he does decide what to do.”

Of all the positions, it is most important that the point guard have a good handle on the offensive system. Especially a system such as Frank’s which is not iso-heavy. And Stuckey, for all of his skills, has never shown the natural instincts of being a distributor on the floor. With the exacting nature of Frank in the early goings of the Piston practices, I can’t see him giving the keys to the offense to a player who hasn’t been around to learn the ropes. Perhaps that is why the Pistons have categorically ruled out the prospects of a sign-and-trade deal. If Detroit entertains the notion that it is willing to look for a sign-and-trade then it will drag this process out even further. And if the trade doesn’t materialize, Stuckey will be WAY behind in a season with few scheduled off days and little time to practice. He with have no chance of catching up and mastering the point guard duties that Frank will expect.

Then again, is he even a point guard?

A tweet from Vince Ellis at the Detroit Free Press caught my eye the other day, and I hope he expands on the point in a future story.

I tried to get Ellis to explain if that was his well-informed speculation or if it came directly from within the Pistons organization. I didn’t get a response, but following a tumultuous season where Stuckey verbally expressed more and more willingness to play the off-guard spot, I wouldn’t be surprised. And if he is the shooting guard, I don’t see him supplanting Ben Gordon this season. With Richard Hamilton finally gone, Gordon deserves a chance to man the starting shooting guard role and see if he can live up to his mammoth contract and/or build up some trade value and move on to greener (playoff-caliber) pastures.

The problem, of course, is that a Bynum Gordon backcourt would probably be the smallest in the NBA. That is why, despite the team’s need for size and a defensive presence in the paint, the team drafted Brandon Knight. While Knight still has a lot to learn and will inevitably make his share of rookie mistakes, the 6-foot-4 guard is essentially Stuckey insurance.

And while I’m certain that Stuckey is not worth the $10 million annual salary he is seeking, one thing I am even more sure of is that if he takes a gamble, waits this process out before begrudgingly accepting the $3 million qualifying offer from the Pistons, being a backup guard on a rebuilding team is not the way to show the league you deserve $10 million per year. That is why it is in the best interest of both parties that Stuckey either accept the five-year extension the Pistons are offering or take the qualifying offer as soon as possible. Stuckey needs to prove his value and to do that he needs to be on the floor. And to be on the floor he needs to be in camp. Right. Now.

Topics: Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Sign-and-trade, Will Bynum

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