Rodney Stuckey Is Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place

UPDATE: Chad Ford is reporting that Rodney Stuckey is “balking at the Pistons’ 5-year, $40-$45 million offer.”

As a guard and then a Pistons executive, Joe Dumars is experienced at building Detroit into a winner and what parts such a run require. Not all of those parts are always easy to work with, and Dumars understands that playing with Isiah Thomas. But he’s proven his savvy as a GM in that same regard, turning Chauncey Billups from a journeyman to a building block after his arrival in 2002.

If he wants to turn Detroit, 30-52 during a contentious 2010-11 season, into a contender again for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, he knows a first step would be keeping Rodney Stuckey as his premier guard. But at what cost?

The restricted free agent is going through his first negotiation of his career with agent Leon Rose, whom he hired this summer. Reports from the Motor City show he believes his market value is near $10 million per year, about a million less than teammate Ben Gordon‘s deal but a million more than Mike Conley‘s contract he signed with Memphis in November 2010.

Is Stuckey worth it? Certainly. He’s durable, playing at least 70 games in his three-year career, and averages 13.6 points per game in that time with a career-high 5.2 assists per game last season.

As a big, 6-5 point guard, Stuckey matches up well with the league’s trend of smaller starting guards, especially in his division with Derrick Rose, Darren Collison and Brandon Jennings. And Detroit’s resigning of Tayshaun Prince shows it wants to make a serious try at a playoff spot under new coach Lawrence Frank and owner Tom Gores. Stuckey knows any shot at a run will include him, and wants to use that to his advantage in negotiations.

Meeting with reporters last week, Dumars flinched when asked if the goal was the playoffs, saying: “Huh? We’re sure going to try.”

But Stuckey is a fulcrum upon which the Pistons’ playoff hopes teeter. Signing him to a mid-level exception of $5 million each year for four years seems out of the question because the contracts that surround him — with Gordon, who devolved into a role player under John Kuester, as a prime example — makes a deal like that look like an insult.

Detroit should want him, but whether they need everything that comes with his play is a question for Dumars. Stuckey’s worth dives when the ball is out of his hands. Kuester couldn’t save the Pistons last year – or his job – in part because he couldn’t manage the mercurial Stuckey. Among his worst hits from last year were a benching in November against Atlanta for ignoring Kuester, refusing to enter the game in the fourth quarter in April against Chicago, and not showing up for practices and mocking Kuester from the bench later in the season.

If Detroit wants to pay him between a mid-level and a Gordon, Stuckey may feel his best offer is on the open market, where Detroit can match any offer sheet he signs; in effect, he and Rose could force the Pistons’ hand and truly judge their loyalty. The problem is any testing of the market will be met with reluctance stemming from leaguewide memories of his attitude problems.

There’s another scenario that could be the best option — even though it’s the one Stuckey surely doesn’t want and could leave the team exposed, as well.

The scenario is a one-year qualifying offer of $3.8 million. It allows Stuckey to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and in the best of both worlds, sets up long-term payday for the him and a short-term playoff spot for the team this year.

He’d be underpaid now, but he’d certainly have something to play for, whatever his clashes with previous management. There’s no question Stuckey is good enough to be a catalyst for the Pistons this year, under the right contract. It’s just a matter of opinion — Dumars’ or Stuckey’s — how the “right” contract is defined.

What do you think is a fair deal for Stuckey?

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