On Rodney Stuckey

(Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

Basketball is supposed to be confusing. Isn’t that why we watch?

I was having quite the time trying to figure out why the Pistons were pounding the Cavaliers last night. That led to sub-questions like, why aren’t Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince missing any jumpers? There was plenty happening to capture our attention.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

We’re not supposed to wonder why Rodney Stuckey was clutching Arnie Kander’s arm, whether Stuckey would be OK, whether his career would be finished. Or worse.

My mind raced – to Len Bias and drugs, to Lyle Alzado and steroids, to Hank Gathers and heart conditions.

I was at a game when Francisco Elson fainted. He was clearly woozy and walking toward the bench when his knees buckled. A couple teammates grabbed him. It was scary.

This looked much worse.

(Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

I always hated how buddy-buddy players are after the game. Sometimes, it seems like they shake hands with the other team while the final shot is still in the air. Where’s the competition? Where’s the hate?

But last night, this seemed appropriate. More than that, it was great.

I have a lot of respect for the Cavaliers, who all stayed for a post-game prayer on the court. Stuckey is part of the NBA family. But he has another family, too.

(The Seattle Times)

As he was being carted off the court, I thought about Rodney Stuckey the person – how little we know about him.

He’s not outspoken enough that we know a lot about his personality. But he’s not shy enough I’d consider that one of his traits, either. He’s just there.

I know he couldn’t go to a bigger school like Washington because of academics. But I know he got pretty good grades at Eastern Washington.

Yesterday, I learned he liked to read HoopsHype and RealGM. I like those sites, too. So, I guess that made me feel a little more connect to him.

But he’s still so distant.

When the Pistons drafted Stuckey, the media immediately began hyping him. He was almost as fast as Mike Conley, but a lot bigger. By the end of the summer league, word was if the draft was re-done, Stuckey would’ve gone a lot higher. He would be a star.

He was stuck behind Chauncey Billups, which would be good for him. He could learn from one of the league’s premier points guard. Best of all, like Stuckey, Billups seemed more like an off-guard in a point guard’s body when first joined the league.

Stuckey looked good as rookie. After a few more years behind Billups, he would take over in a seamless transition.

Then, all of a sudden, Billups was in Denver. Stuckey was Detroit’s starting point guard. The future was now.

Stuckey did OK, but the Pistons struggled. Some were discouraged by progress, but others, including myself, were happy with how he played last year.

He was only 22. He didn’t have to be a star yet. It would come in due time.

Like last season, this was supposed to be Stuckey’s year.

He wouldn’t be burdened by Michael Curry and Allen Iverson anymore. He knew the starting job was his all off-season.

Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva were supposed to take pressure off him, too. Instead, they’ve added a ton. They’ve struggled in Detroit, and with the Pistons’ many injury problems, Stuckey has been called on to shoulder the load this season.

Until tomorrow, he’ll be the only Piston to play every game this year. His raw numbers are impressive. His percentages are not.

Simply, he’s been asked to do too much.

Now, expectations are gone. If they’re not, they should be. The focus should be on Rodney Stuckey living – not how well he does on a basketball court.

(Patricia Beck/Detroit Free Press)

That said, if Stuckey returns to basketball – and given he’s already out of the hospital, I think he will – this could be great for him. He’s been challenged, and that hasn’t really happened before.

Until last night, nothing worried me more about Stuckey’s career than that. Not his lack of true point-guard skills. Not his shaky jumper.

He was a high draft pick. He played as a rookie. He was a sacred cow. He was handed a starting job.

Think back to the title-winning Pistons in 2004. That team won because everyone was overlooked at one point. It played with a chip on its shoulder.

How could Stuckey ever do that? I’m not saying he doesn’t work hard, but he’s been handed so much more than those guys on the 2004 team.

But now – a setback.

It could be more powerful than four teams giving up on Chauncey Billups before really giving him a chance, Michael Jordan tormenting Richard Hamilton in Washington, 22 teams passing on Tayshaun Prince in the draft, every team passing on Ben Wallace and anyone who’s ever seen a basketball game labeling Rasheed Wallace a cancer.

This could be the forces of nature telling Stuckey he’s not supposed to be one of the elite basketball players on the planet. If he overcomes that…

(Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press)

… I’ll be smiling that big, too.

And if he can’t come back from this, if something is seriously wrong – then I hope he finds a way to keep that grin.

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