It might seem crazy to break up the core of a team that had reached the Eastern Conference finals six straight years (especially when the team had yet to lose a single game in 2008-09), but Pistons boss Joe Dumars felt the Pistons needed something to reenergize the locker room. He is taking a calculated risk that Iverson, hungry for a championship ring, can spark the Pistons out of their complacency and push them over the top the way Rasheed Wallace did for them in 2004. If it doesn't work out, Dumars can let Iverson and 'Sheed (each of whom is in the final year of his contract) walk away and clear cap room next summer for a run at a major free agent. The move also frees up playing time for the up-and-coming Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell at point guard and power forward, respectively, while ridding the Pistons of a declining player in Billups who still has three years and $36.4 million left on his contract (there is a team option for the fourth year at $14.2 million). The risk for Detroit is that it will miss Billups' steady leadership at the point, and that Iverson might not take well to splitting time in the backcourt with Rip Hamilton and Stuckey. Also, the Pistons might miss McDyess' experience and scoring punch off the bench (assuming he does not get waived by Denver and then re-sign with Detroit). Given that Detroit was right there with the Celtics and Cavs as Eastern favorites, it represents a big gamble by Dumars.
WHY THE NUGGETS MADE THE DEAL
They didn't want to risk Iverson's holding them up for a big long-term contract (or perhaps walking away for nothing) at the end of the season. Billups fills a glaring holes at point guard while bringing some much-needed veteran leadership and championship experience to their locker room. The fact that he is a local product who went to college at Colorado might also help at the box office. As great a player as Iverson has been in his career, he is on the downside at age 33, and his scoring abilities were not needed as much with Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith already on the roster. The Nuggets are not serious title contenders in the loaded West anyway, so this gives them a chance to retool a bit and perhaps be a more balanced team. It also gives George Karl one less superstar ego to manage, a factor on a team with several strong personalities. The problem for Denver is that Billups, 32, is not exactly a spring chicken either. Meanwhile, McDyess reportedly does not want to play in Denver and might not report. The Nuggets are said to be considering buying out the 34-year-old reserve forward. Unless Denver makes some other moves, it seems it has yielded some future flexibility in return for a potential short-term improvement on the court.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Pistons are still a top contender in the East, and in some ways a scarier threat to the Celtics and Cavs today than they were yesterday. But will Iverson disrupt their chemistry (and patented team defense)? The Nuggets will be more balanced and deeper, but they are still looking at a No. 7 or 8 spot in the West.
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