After a 2007-08 season characterized by monster trades, which begun with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen being dealt in the offseason and continued with the likes of Shaq, Pau Gasol, and Jason Kidd being moved during the year, the 2008-09 season has already begun with a bang.
The trade of "The Answer," Allen Iverson, to the Pistons for Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess is a major, star-powered deal that few saw coming, especially so early in the season. Even when Pistons GM Joe Dumars warned his team following last year's playoff exit that "there are no sacred cows," most players did not believe something so drastic would happen—and many experts predicted that it would be Rasheed Wallace, not Billups, on his way out of town.
Whether expected or not, this is the trade that was made, and it is certainly a major one for both teams. Detroit, a team with title aspirations, decided a major shake-up would give them the best shot. Denver, a team most expect to miss out on the playoffs, chose a change of direction, with the Iverson experiment the past two years failing to make them an elite team.
One rule: I will be discussing strictly the effect the deal will have on the basketball court, and not on the salary cap or any potential future free-agent signings. I will not talk about how Iverson's deal is expiring, while Billups still has three more years after this one. That's for the GMs to worry about.
Let's now take a look at how this trade will affect the players involved, as well as their new teams.
Some of the veteran Pistons who have been around since the 2004 championship have already expressed displeasure at the departure of their longtime teammate and floor general Billups. However, Joe Dumars should not be faulted for making this deal, and in fact should be praised for taking a chance on a veteran superstar.
As we witnessed last year, sometimes the risks work (as with the Celtics), and sometimes they don't (Dallas and Phoenix). However, Iverson, at age 33, has a lot more tread left on his tires than either Shaq or Jason Kidd did at the time they were dealt.
Iverson fills the main need of this Detroit team—a proven go-to scorer. The Pistons have long been one of the most well-rounded and balanced squads in the NBA, and are still among the top contenders for another title, but last year their lack of a go-to guy hurt them in the playoffs, when they could not overcome Boston's Big Three.
At 27.7 points per game, the Answer has the third-highest career scoring average in NBA history. The guy can flat fill it up. While not as accurate a three-point shooter as Billups, Iverson uses his superior speed and quickness to penetrate at will, scoring most of his buckets in the paint, either with fadeaways or floaters over taller defenders.
The Pistons won't miss the three-point shooting of Billups because they have other guys who can fill that role. Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Rasheed Wallace are all accurate outside shooters who will benefit from Iverson's penetration and the added defensive attention that has to be focused on such a prolific scorer.
Last season, Hamilton had his lowest scoring average (17.3 ppg) since his rookie season and Prince (13.2) had his lowest since his second year. Wallace has averaged fewer than 13 points per game in each of the last two seasons. With the scoring averages of its stars dropping, Detroit desperately needed to add a scorer like Iverson.
Now don't think just because he's a scorer he can't dish it out, though. 2003-04 was the season when Billups really came into his own with the Pistons. Since that time, he has averaged 6.8 assists per game. In the same time frame, Iverson has averaged 7.3 assists. In three different seasons, he has averaged over 30 points and over seven assists.
In addition to the upgrade from Billups to Iverson, it appears Detroit has a good shot at re-acquiring McDyess, who does not want to play for Denver and may be bought out of his deal. If that's the case, this team will retain the same core, while adding one of the greatest scorers in NBA history. Aside from the little bit of time it will take the team to gel with Iverson's style of play, I see no downside to this deal for the Pistons.
While I still feel this deal could work out positively for the Nuggets, I liked it a lot better before it became clear that McDyess was not a willing participant. The Nuggets could really use some added muscle up front after the salary dump that cost them Marcus Camby.
In under 30 minutes a game last season, McDyess averaged 8.5 rebounds. In his career, he averages 9.6 boards per 36 minutes. Besides being a force on the glass, McDyess has a polished offensive game that doesn't require a lot of shots to thrive. He has a career .497 shooting percentage and would have fit in nicely with Denver's uptempo style.
Without McDyess, though, this becomes basically a deal of Iverson for Billups. Although Billups is not as talented a player as Iverson, he is a pure point guard who has the potential to have better chemistry with Denver's talented scorers Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith.
Anthony is already one of the premier offensive players in the league, so having Iverson around may have even been a little overkill. Having two big-time perimeter scorers has rarely been a recipe for championships, and in fact the last NBA champion to have two perimeter players average 20 points per game was the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls.
Trading away Iverson makes it clear that this is Carmelo's team, and paves the way for him to mature as a player and grow into the role of go-to guy. Too often over the past two years, it has been unclear whether he or Iverson was the number-one scorer, and that kind of confusion is unproductive.
Even last year, with Boston's Big Three, it was clear that Paul Pierce was the go-to scorer when they needed a bucket. Now the Nuggets have established that for Carmelo.
In addition to benefiting Anthony, J.R. Smith is the Nugget who will get the most out of this deal. He should see an increase in his minutes, and will probably become the starting shooting guard. Anthony Carter should be seeing far fewer minutes.
Smith is a pure scorer, whose style in a lot of ways is similar to Iverson's, making it hard for the two to play at the same time. Now, though, he will be playing with a pure point guard whose top goal is to get him the ball in position to score.
Besides being an athletic penetrator, Smith shot 40.3 percent from beyond the arc last season. He should get a lot of good looks from Billups. Before this year, the most minutes he has averaged over a season was 24.5 in his rookie year, but that should go up to 32-35 this year. Last season, Smith averaged 23.0 points per 36 minutes.
For Billups himself, I expect this trade to bring about a bit of a different style of play. His passing and leadership skills will remain solid, and he will likely even average more assists in Denver's up-tempo style with the scorers that they possess.
However, I also see more opportunities for him to score himself. He is a very good three-point shooter and this is a team that likes to shoot the three. He should see his shot attempts go up and should help the Nuggets a lot.
I still don't see Denver being a playoff team in the deep West, but they could make a run at the eighth spot if Portland, Golden State, and Dallas continue to struggle. I think this is a good move for the Nuggets, one that will help their young stars to develop for the future without preventing them from having success now.