Like most of you, this whole Iverson/Billups/McDyess business caught me completely by surprise. In the two days since, I've written thousands of words over nearly two dozen posts ... but I've yet to state an actual opinion. How come? Because the whole idea is so foreign it's been almost impossible for me to wrap my head around it.
I blame the timing; it'd be easier to digest if this happened over the summer when all of us were still clamoring for change. Or perhaps at the trade deadline when Rodney Stuckey had more time to prove himself. But two games into the regular season? After we already convinced ourselves that a new coach and a new rotation was all that was needed? My brain can't shift gears that fast.
Granted, as soon as I realized just how much cap space the trade opened up, I got excited for the future. How could you not? The Pistons will essentially have dibs on any free agent who hits the market the next two summers. But what about this year? Will all that planning for the future entail writing off this season?
Most of you have been debating this very point for days, so I won't bore you (too much) with re-hashing my entire argument, but I don't think it does. In fact, I'm now convinced Joe Dumars pulled off the double-whammy of planning for the future and improving the present.
Don't get me wrong, that's not a slam on Billups, who's still one of the league's elite at his position. Not everybody realizes it, but that's only because it's easier to recognize "flash" than "efficiency," and he's still one of the most efficient point guards in the entire league. It's easy to make a highlight reel out of Steve Nash's passes, but how do you show Billups not turning the ball over? While Jason Kidd racks up triple-doubles, Billups is posting one of the best True-Shooting percentages in the league. In other words, the things that he's most talented at require a long attention span to appreciate, which casual fans and/or sports talk radio hosts rarely take the time to do.
If Billups is so great, why do I think the Pistons are better with Iverson? For one, because it'll force them out of their comfort zone. The roster that played the first two games of the season could probably have won 50 games a season for five more seasons ... but was it good enough to win a title? Obviously not. The Pistons had become predictable, and adding a guy like Iverson (and giving a guy like Stuckey greater responsibility) who can create his own shot at will is a huge step toward fixing that.
Some people have complained about AI's attitude, but when was the last time he actually caused a distraction? His reputation precedes him, much like Rasheed Wallace's. The fact of the matter is that he's in a contract year, and nothing will raise his value more than proving that he can fit within a system and win a title. He said so himself:
"I want to be the piece that can get us over the hump. That would mean a lot to me in my career. I’ve done so many things in this league as far as being an All-Star, scoring champion, first-team All-NBA and things like that. But I haven’t accomplished my No. 1 goal and that’s to win a championship. Like I was telling Joe earlier today, I’m willing to sacrifice whatever I’m willing to sacrifice to get it done. I’ve tried it my way plenty of times. I’ve tried it different ways and it hasn’t been done."
But isn't he slowing down? He's a superstar in name only, right? Say what you want, but at 33 he's two years younger than Jason Kidd and one year younger than Steve Nash. He averaged 26.4 points (despite sharing the ball with Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith) while playing in all 82 games last year. Not only that, he shot 45.8% from the field, which is actually pretty respectable for a volume shooter, and got to the line nearly 10 times a game. There's no way he averages 41.8 minutes in Detroit so his raw numbers will decrease, but like Kevin said, fewer minutes may result in greater efficiency.
Above and beyond what he brings to the court, his arrival also puts the national spotlight on the Pistons. Everyone is watching to see how this works, and while you might not think that counts for much, it brings back a sense of pressure and urgency that's been lacking for years. With AI and Rasheed in a contract year, there are no longer any second or third chance; either this team gets it done in the playoffs or the two highest-paid guys on the team will be replaced with younger, better options this summer. It's as easy as that.
As a fan, I don't see any downside: AI's arrival guarantees the team will play with urgency in the playoffs, and his expiring contract guarantees that no matter what happens in May and June we won't have to hear about windows closing.
All that's left is enjoying the ride.