The Michigan Live blog and Stephen A. Smith and ESPN.com are reporting that the Nuggets and Pistons have reached agreement on a trade that will send Allen Iverson to the Pistons in exchange for Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess and Cheik Samb. The trade is not final.
After watching the Nuggets against the Clippers last Friday, this trade makes sense. Or maybe it's that AI's performance makes sense now that the trade is happening. Iverson looked disinterested in that game. He got going in the second half, after the competitive juices started flowing, but he was sleepwalking in the first half. I also found it strange that George Karl was lamenting how the Nuggets had no one to turn to for a crucial basket late in the game against Utah with Carmelo out. Hello? Allen Iverson? 23,000 career points? Then Iverson played only 25 minutes against the Lakers.
For Denver, this is great. It lets them shed some salary, and maybe even get below the luxury tax threshold if they can reach a buy out with McDyess. Even without a McDyess buyout, it reduces their payroll by over $3M this season, which is significant; that alone probably gets them under the threshold. Of course, if they can't buy out McDyess, then they're more hamstrung next summer, since both Billups and McDyess are signed next season.
But even without longer term salary relief, this is a good trade for the Nuggets. They weren't going to resign Iverson - that seemed clear. And although AI has point guard size, he's clearly a shooting guard, and the Nuggets have been forced to get by with Anthony Carter at the point for too long now. With JR Smith signed long term and needing to be on the court, the Nuggets have a much more coherent starting lineup with Billups and Smith than with Carter and Iverson. Billups has also been a consummate leader in Detroit, something that the sometimes churlish and immature Nuggets would seem to need pretty desperately. How Billups fits in with the likes of Carmelo and Smith and Kenyon Martin is another story. But on paper it makes a lot of sense. Of course, moving Smith into the starting lineup just made Denver's very weak bench even weaker, but the starting five is impressive.
As for Detroit, Citizen Jax will be happy to know that they apparently have full confidence in Rodney Stuckey and are ready to hand the team over to him. Or are they going to let AI run the point? Either way, there are some unanswered questions, despite the presence of the Answer. The Pistons start all-star Rip Hamilton at the shooting guard, and small forward Tayshaun Prince is arguably their most valuable player at small forward. So what are they going to do? Do they bench Hamilton or Prince to make room for AI at shooting guard? Do they move Prince to the power forward (a la USA Basketball) and play super small? Or do they play Iverson at the point, where no one's ever had success? Or here's an interesting one - do they bring AI off the bench? At the tail end of a contract paying him $22M this season, it's clear that the AI doesn't fit into the Pistons long term plan. They've got youngsters Stuckey, Jason Maxiell, Amir Johnson, Aron Afflalo and even Walter Herrmann all playing well - AI would get in the way of their youth movement.
After the Pistons were eliminated from the playoffs, Joe Dumars said he was going to make some changes. The summer came and went and the Pistons were the least changed team in the league, and it looked like Dumars was all talk. But it just took him an extra week or so. Getting rid of Billups, the indisputed leader of that team, is huge. It certainly seems to weaken the Pistons this season.
Meanwhile, the competition for the Western Conference playoff spots just got a little tougher.