Say this about Joe Dumars’ Pistons: They’re more interesting when they’re not playing than the Lions are when they are.
Dumars, criticized by some for standing pat over the summer, just shot a cannon through the Detroit roster, and nothing is standing pat anymore. Out goes Chauncey Billups and crowd favorite Antonio McDyess. In comes Allen Iverson.
Yes, THE Allen Iverson.
But before anyone hyperventilates, let’s take a breath and look at it two ways: the basketball way and the business way.
Basketball first. Dumars, no matter how much he liked Chauncey, had grown leery of the man’s ability to deliver in the playoffs. Two years in a row, Dumars had hoped for a warrior-leader in his point guard, a man who would close the deal, and instead he got a guy who tried, missed, limped and promised to get better. Nobody doubts Chauncey’s sincerity or contributions to the community. But Dumars left sentimental behind a long time ago.
The truth is, he tried to make deals for Chauncey during the summer, but couldn’t get one he liked. This one started last Thursday, Dumars said, “when the phone rang in my office.” It might not have been a typical time – one game into the season – but, Dumars said, “these deals happen when they happen.”
Meanwhile, the development of Rodney Stuckey made Chauncey more expendable than his captainship would suggest. So did the three expensive years left on Chauncey’s contract. That was huge. More on that in a moment. Dealing with difficult players
Meanwhile, there’s Iverson. Say what you will about his history – and there is plenty to say – he fits the mold of a player Dumars goes for: hungry, talented, never won a title and winding down a contract. Rasheed Wallace worked out pretty well in that mode.
Dumars said Detroit would use Iverson, 33, as a point guard and a shooting guard. Plus, Iverson can do something better than any Piston right now: create his own shot. In the playoffs, against suffocating defenses, that is crucial. Billups slowly had lost that talent. Iverson always has had it. He also is capable of being a fine defensive player when he’s in the right place. Denver was not the right place.
“It was time for us to add an element that we haven’t had in the playoffs,” Dumars told me. “ We’ve been kind of winning the same way for years now. Teams get used to you. This gives us a different way to attack.”
Dumars said he didn’t know Iverson much more than to say hello, except from playing against him as “a guy who blew by me so fast, I didn’t have time to say hello.” As for negatives on A.I.’s reputation? “I know that he shows up and he gives it to you night in and night out. Any of the other issues – I feel comfortable dealing with all kinds of guys, from Dennis Rodman to Rasheed. I’m not gonna say, I’m never gonna trade for that guy based on what I’ve heard about him.’ “
Of course, there is Michael Curry. How’d you like to coach your third game in the NBA, having just learned Allen Iverson is your new point guard?
“Actually,” Dumars said, “Michael walked in and said, Thank you. You got me a big-time player.’ He will not shy away from this.” Wishing Billups the best
Now. The other big factor. Business. This deal gives the Pistons a chance to be very rich in the free-agent world. Dumars has become shrewd at dumping expensive assets when everyone else still thinks they’re valuable. And he loves expiring contracts, because they give him options.
Iverson’s is expiring. Billups’ was a lock-down for three years. With Rasheed’s deal also up, Dumars is thinking not only of this season’s roster but rosters ahead.
OK. Now. A word about Chauncey. He deserves a standing ovation. His recent postseasons notwithstanding, he has been the face of the franchise and a good face, a hard worker, a great man for the community – and a hell of a player. At 32, he gets to go home to Colorado. He will be missed.
But make no mistake. An era officially ended Monday. Ben Wallace was first. Chauncey cements the fact. The Pistons, under Dumars, never stop, they just idle with the engine running. It’s what makes them interesting. We’ll see if it makes them a champion.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).