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Back in the rotation, Stackhouse shines once again

11/17/2012 9:35 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Jerry Stackhouse drives past Boston's Courtney Lee during Thursday's 102-97 win.(AP)
Once upon a time, Jerry Stackhouse was one of the elite scorers in the NBA. Drafted third overall by Philadelphia in 1995, Stackhouse averaged 19.2 points per game for the Sixers in his rookie year, and continued to be one of the game’s best over the next decade during stops in Philly, Detroit, D.C. and Dallas.

As Stackhouse aged and dealt with injuries, most notably recurring knee and groin problems that limited him early in his time in Big D, his role transitioned to that of sixth man – where he again became one of the best among his ilk.

But then came 2008-09, when he played in just 10 games in his final season with the Mavericks. The Brooklyn Nets are his fifth team in the last five years – sixth if you count the 24 hours he was with the Grizzlies after a summer 2009 trade – and last year, he played in just 30 games (averaging just 9.1 minutes per) for the Atlanta Hawks.

On the surface, no one would have blamed Jerry Stackhouse if he called it a career once the 2011-12 campaign ended, but the veteran knew he had more to give.

“I felt like I was in the best shape of my life last year, but I was in a different role in Atlanta and it just wasn’t in the cards,” he said following Thursday’s Nets win over Boston at Barclays Center. “I personally felt that I should have played a little more, and I didn’t want to go out with that taste in my mouth, knowing I could still go somewhere and contribute.”

That led Stackhouse to Brooklyn, where he signed on for a chance to be part of something special. Now 38, Stackhouse has worn No. 42 for the last two decades in homage to his favorite athlete, Brooklyn legend Jackie Robinson, and came to the borough the Dodgers made famous for a chance to re-energize his career with a team on the rise.

“I got an opportunity to come here and be part of this, and I pushed my body again to the point where I almost overdid it and pulled my hamstring and my groin right before training camp,” Stackhouse said.

Between his recent “decline” and his injury history, many expected Stackhouse to simply be a veteran end-of-the-bench presence; but now, just a few weeks into the season, he finds himself in a familiar situation: back in the rotation. With Gerald Wallace missing all but the first game of the season so far and MarShon Brooks also hobbled early on, Stackhouse product has made four appearances for the Nets this year, averaging 15 minutes a game and 5.8 points as a member of the “Bench Mob.”

“Give Jerry all the credit; he worked hard in the off season to get his body ready to play,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said following Thursday’s win over Boston. “We didn’t necessarily plan on him being in the rotation, but he’s kind of fallen into it. And you know, it’s such a long season, and things happen; right now Jerry is a rotation player for us, and I can’t necessarily explain it, but it’s working out.”

In that win over the Celtics, Stackhouse played 20 minutes, a number he hit just once in Atlanta last season. And while he hit just one bucket, it was a big one: a three-pointer with 6:20 to go that tied the score at 87-87 and put the Nets back on the winning track.

Johnson hopes he doesn’t have to lean on his veteran for that long too often – saying that 20 minutes was “more than we wanted, but we didn’t really have a choice” – but also knows that on a team loaded with youth, Stackhouse is indeed a valuable asset even if he never leaves the bench.

“He’s been solid and the main thing about Jerry is that we like the way he moves the basketball; he’s really showing our young guards when they get double teamed how to move the basketball and make the extra pass,” Johnson said. As for Stackhouse himself, he says that whether he plays 20 minutes or none, he’ll be ready no matter what – especially if he can have more moments like his big one on Thursday.

“I feel great (physically), and I’m not concerned with the last couple years; all that work, it was all in the effort to have moments like this one and help this team. I feel great, and I know it’s about maintenance…it comes with the territory, I guess.”

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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