Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Humbler Stackhouse Finds Himself On The Brink Of Greatness

The Pistons had just taken the first two games of a best-of-five, first-round series against the Toronto Raptors. It was spring, 2002. And its star was getting loose-lipped to folks with microphones, notepads, and video cameras.

"I'm not even going to pack any clothes," for the Toronto trip, Jerry Stackhouse boldly said, and with the sneer of someone with a chip on his shoulder.

The implication was easily understood. Stackhouse believed the series would end with one more game in Canada, so why bother bringing a bunch of luggage?

If you think that was a strange attitude, indeed, for a player toiling for a team that hadn't won a playoff series in 11 years, well there you are.

The Pistons lost the two games in Toronto. It wasn't clear whether Stackhouse had enough threads to last the stay.

Regardless, the Pistons came back to Auburn Hills, and barely disposed of the Raptors -- the outcome not being safely decided until late in the fourth quarter. And Jerry Stackhouse, prognosticator extraordinaire, had played simply awful in Games 3 thru 5. It could be argued that the Pistons won the series despite their supposed star player.

The Pistons got bumped out in the next round, in five games against the Celtics. Stackhouse, once again, was less-than-stellar. But at least he made no more predictions.

It was after the disappearing act in the playoffs, which followed a season in which he shot just .397 from the field, that Stackhouse was shipped away. The general consensus was that the Pistons would never win the big one with Jerry Stackhouse as their top gun. So off he went, to the Washington Wizards for a skinny beanpole of a shooter named Richard Hamilton.

And while Rip Hamilton helped lead the Pistons to four straight conference finals, an NBA championship and a league runner-up, Stackhouse kicked around with the Wizards before landing in Dallas. Now Stackhouse plays for an NBA championship of his own, as his Mavericks prepare to face the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

Stackhouse: No more predictions, but more winning

Stack's not generally considered a key player for the Mavericks, although he averaged 13 points per game this season. His FG pct. is typical -- in the low 40's. But he was enough of a component to help the Mavs upend the defending champion Spurs, and the Phoenix Suns in the last two rounds.

There was a time when Stackhouse was generally thought of as a player around whom you could build a championship-caliber team. But he couldn't coexist with Allen Iverson in Philadelphia, Grant Hill in Detroit, or Michael Jordan in Washington. Now he, perhaps having learned his lesson, coexists with Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard and his coach, Avery Johnson, in Dallas. No more tough talk. No more bold predictions.

It would be ironic, in a way, if Jerry Stackhouse won an NBA title before Iverson or Hill. Some would even say it would be unfair. But he's humbled now, and the league championship that critics said would forever elude him is now within his grasp.

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