Washington Wizards guard Jerry Stackhouse, the team's leading scorer, said this week that although his role with the team is not what he expected, he is willing to adapt and "fluctuate into different systems and be effective."
For Stackhouse, 28, the biggest sacrifice has come with Michael Jordan's return to the starting lineup after 15 games playing as a reserve.
"I think I'm affected by that more than anybody else," Stackhouse said of Jordan's switch to the starting lineup. "When I came here all of the talk was about me coming out and setting the tone and putting pressure on teams, getting them in the bonus by cutting and slashing. I could soften them up by the time he got in the game.
"He's starting now and that changed things. That and the fact we revamped our whole offense after two weeks into the season, then came back to doing some different things. There's been a lot of change, but I'm moving with the change. Instead of trying to fight the change I'm moving along with it, smiling and enjoying it."
Coach Doug Collins admitted that Stackhouse's role has changed to accommodate Jordan, adding, "As long as we don't get into a half-court game it doesn't affect Stack."
Stackhouse is very effective in the open court where his isolation skills can shine, Collins said. In half-court sets, the Wizards are a screening, ball-movement team that does not call for much one-on-one play.
Said Stackhouse: "I thought I would be more relied on for offensive purposes. I expected to come in here and realistically average 25, 30 points a game. It just hasn't happened. . . . At the same time, last year [with Detroit] I was asked to kind of change somewhat how I played and how I went about the game for the betterment of the team."
Stackhouse, acquired from the Pistons this summer in a deal that sent Richard Hamilton to Detroit, said he has no problem being Jordan's "Scottie Pippen" because both are offensive threats who are learning to play together.
"Since [he and Jordan] have been at it for a while, I'm getting better with it and I'm feeling more comfortable. It was just like last year [in Detroit]. It took a while for me to change but as the season moved along, I got better."
The numbers support Stackhouse's claims.
In the 15 games Jordan played as a reserve, Stackhouse averaged 22 points, Jordan 16.4. In the 12 games Jordan started, Stackhouse's numbers dipped initially but evened out to a 22-point average, in large part because of the last five games, in which he averaged 24.6 points. Jordan has averaged 18.1 points since becoming a starter and 17.1 for the season.
Stackhouse said his role has been altered -- not diminished -- and that has caused some inconsistent moments. Stackhouse, who now occasionally plays small forward, claims he has been asked to become more of a jump shooter than a slasher -- his strength -- but said he has no problem following the script.
"Last year I showed I could be a pick-and-roll guy and still score 20-plus points, average five assists and get guys involved.
"This year I'm doing the same thing, averaging 20-plus points and getting about five assists but I'm just going in a different way. That kind of shows I can fluctuate into different systems and be effective."
Stackhouse said this is his season to "fit in," and that next season should be much different -- if he is back with the Wizards. Stackhouse can opt out of the final two years of his $42 million contract after this season and has said for months that he probably will. He is earning $6.4 million this season and said he hopes to land a hefty long-term deal -- possibly with Washington.
The Wizards have not commented on their plans with Stackhouse because he is under contract and has the choice to stay or go. Team sources have indicated, however, that keeping Stackhouse is their first option, particularly with Jordan retiring.
Stackhouse said his desire to put up big offensive numbers is not to inflate his value on the free-agent market. He already has established a reputation in terms of what he can do on the court and teams are wise enough to know when a player is padding his stats.
"For me being an all-star two of the last three years, from my standpoint and from the standpoint around the league, it's basically about being underpaid based on my salary this year and the salary I'm scheduled to make the next two years [$14.3 million]. I'm 28, I feel like I'm in my prime. This could be my last deal and securing things for my family is what I'm looking to do.
"People can say whatever they want to say about it, but every team I've been on, everybody else has been looking out for themselves and using the leverage they had. This year I'm going to try to play well enough to have leverage on my side and do what's best for me and my family."
Besides landing a sizeable deal, Stackhouse said the potential to be the focal point for the Wizards, post-Jordan, is appetizing.
"I think a brighter light is ahead here," Stackhouse said. "Michael definitely said he's retiring after this year and that alone allows me to be more of who I am. More is going to be asked of me. I hope everything works out in Washington, because I think it would work out best for all parties. Plus, I've already got a tract of land in Northern Virginia that I'm planning on doing some things with."