NBA Trade: Iverson to Pistons, Billups to Nuggets

Joe Dumars threatened/promised to make a major change to the Pistons following their loss in 6 games to the Boston Celtics last season.  It was their 5th straight trip to the NBA Eastern conference finals, with only two trips to the finals and one championship.  Clearly Joe thought that with most of his core now over 30, and even his youngest starter Tayshaun Prince at age 28, he needed to make a move to get younger and keep the Pistons in contention.

Well today he made his move.  He didn’t exactly get younger, getting The Answer, but he certainly made a splash in picking up one of the NBA’s best scorers and exciting players.  Antonio McDyess was a throw-in for the deal for salary reasons.  While he was a veteran big man that had a role in the Detroit rotation, the Pistons need to get more minutes for Maxiel, Amir Johnson, and possibly Kwame Brown depending on how he plays.  Clearly the frontcourt was too crowded, something had to give, and it was McDyess.

In a way he may have made it easier to get younger, freeing himself from the final 3 years of Chauncey Billups’ $50million contract, and making it easier to sign young talent like Rodney Stuckey.  Iverson is in the last year of his contract, which pays him $20 million this season.  If he likes his role in Detroit he may re-sign, although for much less than his current rate, and for probably more like a 2-year deal.

How does this change the play on the court?  The first thing is it establishes Stuckey as the point guard of the present, with no other true point guards on the roster (other than 12th man Will Bynum).  What this means is that Stuckey, Rip Hamilton, and Iverson will play a good deal of time with each of the other two, leaving Iverson and Hamilton as two shooting guards sharing the backcourt at times.  Afflalo will take the rest of the minutes, especially when the Pistons need a defensive stopper on a high-scoring 2 guard.

On Offense:  The advantage of adding Iverson is that he is an explosive one-on-one scorer on a team that has few, and in addition his quick penetrating moves often lead to open shots for his teammates (Hamilton from midrange, Prince from the corner, and Rasheed Wallace for 3 from the perimeter).  The downside is that the Pistons lose their point guard and facilitator of their offense.  This effect should not be dramatic, however, because Detroit runs primarily isolation plays on offense that don’t require a classic pass-first point.

On Defense:  Detroit will likely be worse.  Having watched Iverson the past 2 years in Denver I can vouch that he is a truly bad defender.  He takes wild gambles to intercept passes, and for every one he catches he misses 4 that lead to wide open shots for the opposition.  In addition, Rip struggles with stronger guards, and he has always been helped by Chauncey’s muscle, leaving him free to guard the quicker of the opponents guards.  With Iverson and Hamilton on the floor together, the pistons will have two wispy-thin players who could really struggle with a stronger guard (think Dwayne Wade or some of the West’s big 2s like McGrady and Kobe).

Overall, I like this trade.  The downside of a poorer defense should be mitigated by several factors:

1.  An explosive offensive player.  Iverson likely becomes Detroit’s go-to player in crunch time, someone who can go shot for shot with LeBron, Paul Pierce, or Wade over the final 2 minutes of a close playoff game.

2.  More minutes for young bigs:  I love how hard McDyess played in the playoffs last season, but he wasn’t going to be the starting 4 for a Piston’s championship team.  We have to hope that it will be either Amir Johnson or Jason Maxiel, or even a rejuvenated Kwame Brown at the 5 with Rasheed at the 4.

3.  Contract relief:  The Pistons should have significant cap space next season even if they re-sign Iverson, and if he doesn’t work out they will be one of the teams with the cap space to sign a major free-agent.  Next summer they should be one of the few, since many teams are saving up for the Lebron/Wade/Carmelo sweepstakes of 2010.  They also will need to give big bucks to Rodney Stuckey soon assuming he keeps developing, so in the end this trade could go down as a 30-something Chauncey Billups for a young Stuckey just entering his prime.

Way to go Joe D!  Keep screening your calls and refusing to pick up for your old backcourt mate Isiah Thomas looking for a job.  Go Pistons!

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