MCGANN: Iverson deal lands Detroit’s missing piece

Nathan McGann

During his illustrious 13-year career, he has done everything a professional basketball player could have dreamed of doing. Since being selected first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the ’96 NBA Draft, he has won the Rookie of the Year Award, been named League MVP, awarded All-Star MVP twice and been scoring champion four times. His career scoring average of 27.7 points per game ranks him third all-time only behind Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.

The only thing Allen Iverson has been unable to accomplish is winning an NBA Championship, and after his trade from the Denver Nuggets to the Detroit Pistons for Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess and Cheikh Samb, Iverson may be looking at his last real opportunity to do so.

So, will “The Answer” find his answer in Motor City?

This early in the season, any speculation is just that – speculation. Nevertheless, Detroit president Joe Dumars pulled the trigger on easily the most intriguing move of 2008.

First of all, the deal is great for the Detroit front office because it made Billups’ four-year, $46 million contract someone else’s problem. If they elect not to re-sign Iverson and Rasheed Wallace at season’s end, then the Pistons will have more than $20 million in cap room when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all hit the free agent market in 2010. Plus, back-up point guard Rodney Stuckey has proven to be more than just an insurance policy.

The questions really begin on the court, outside the realm of the front-office executives.

The deal basically amounts to Denver and Detroit swapping two of the best point guards in the league, since most pundits expect McDyess to sit out 30 days and re-sign with the Pistons. But losing Billups, no matter who was to step in as his replacement, is something the team and its fans will have to adjust to.

Billups is a big, powerful guard who looks to distribute the ball first and score second. With the personnel that Detroit employs, it is hard to say that anyone could be a better fit.

During Billups’ tenure in Motown, the supporting cast was always in sync perfectly with Billups, and his departure could certainly disrupt that on-court chemistry. This could especially affect Rip Hamilton, who runs without the basketball better than anyone in the league and scored a large portion of his points coming off screens and then having Billups dish him the ball. Don’t expect Iverson to do the same.

Billups also matches up against the other Eastern Conference powerhouses better than Iverson because of his size and superior defensive abilities. Last season’s NBA Champion Boston Celtics had serious matchup problems when Billups was on the court. He made it difficult for young Celtics guard Rajon Rondo to create anything on the offensive end and exploited Rondo’s smaller size, essentially scoring at will when Rondo was called on to defend. Iverson has never been known for his defensive abilities, and although his size has never held him back, the downgrade can’t be overlooked.

But with Iverson, the Pistons added something they have lacked for some time: a consistent, prolific scorer. In the past six years, Detroit has had only one player eclipse an average of 20 points in a season – Hamilton in ’05-’06. AI continues to mystify defenders with his quickness, durability and knack for scoring from anywhere on the court. With Billups running the offense, it was anybody’s guess who was going to take the shot in a must-score situation. Iverson feeds off the pressure and will demand his number be called no matter the situation.

What might be the most important factor in this equation, at least from Iverson’s perspective, is that Detroit has added a future Hall of Famer who is hungry. Iverson is on a mission to truly cement himself in NBA lore, and the addition of an NBA title would push him over the threshold. A player who seems as devoted as Iverson right now, with his abilities and credentials, is certainly scary. Look at the impact Kevin Garnett had on the Celtics last year when he realized it was his last real chance at a championship. After limited playoff success, he shined in the spotlight and finally took the NBA crown home.

Iverson acts as a jolt to what some say has become a predictable, stagnant franchise.

It is hard to say the Pistons have been stuck in a rut because year in and year out, they are one of the top teams in what is an improved Eastern Conference and have made six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. But during that Finals streak, they have advanced to the NBA Finals just twice, winning only once against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004.

If the Pistons can adjust to the identity overhaul that accompanied the trade, then there is no reason to think that the Iverson-Pistons marriage can’t be successful. If the past West Coast road trip, which included a win over the previously undefeated Los Angeles Lakers, is any indication, then clearly adjustments are already being made.

Iverson may find his answer in Detroit. But more importantly, Detroit feels it has found its answer in Iverson.


Nathan McGann is a sophomore English major from Revere, Mass. He can be reached at [email protected]