The View From Up Here
Why this trade might have been a better deal for Denver.
Yesterday’s blockbuster trade between the Detroit Pistons and the Denver Nuggets is official. Allen Iverson is suddenly in Detroit in a move that sent guard Chauncey Billups, forward Antonio McDyess, and center Cheik Samb back to the Mile High City. Joe Dumars deserves nothing but respect as a general manager and made it clear he would go through every possible scenario to get back to the NBA Finals, but from the Nugget prospective, this is an unbelievable stroke of fortune and quite possibly a steal.
Every facet of this trade will positively affect the Nuggets–from the financial statements upstairs all the way to the product of the court. If the trade is to be taken at face value, the move was aided in large part by this past summer’s heavily scrutinized Marcus Camby deal. When the Nuggets got basically nothing back for the veteran big man (which they did) they freed up 10 million in an exception which would allow the “numbers” from a future deal to not necessarily “add up,” which has become the sticking point on many recent proposed trades. With Iverson’s $21.9 million in exchange for the combination Billups’ $11.05 million, Mac’s $6.8 mil and Samb’s $798,000, there is a inconsistency of over $3 million. This discrepancy was allowed due to the Camby exception and by this time next year with Samb’s money gone, Mac’s buyout in place, and Chauncey a regular on the Nuggets, there will be another $7 million the team can have “off the books.”
This, of course, assumes the team will buy out the remaining portion of McDyess’ contract. In my estimation, the Nuggets are too thin on the front line to pass up Mac’s steady game, as he seems like the perfect fit to back up Kenyon Martin and Nene. But, it appears McDyess wants nothing to do with leaving Motown. The Nuggets are likely to negotiate down to about a 50 percent deal, meaning they would only shell out about 6.8 of the 13.6 still remaining. (As a side note, the Nuggets cut Juwan Howard to make room for the trade, but with the impending buyout, the Nuggets should be able to resign the veteran big man.)
Before the trade, the Nuggets’ payroll was about $80 million. With the League’s current tax threshold set at just over $71 million, this trade has potentially saved owner Stan Kroenke almost $4 million in luxury taxes; just one year after shelling out $13.6 million as the fourth-highest payroll in the League. Once the dust settles, the Nuggets should be surprisingly close to the threshold, meaning over the course of a couple months, the team was able to cut almost $20 million in payroll and still gets a quality player in return for Iverson, an unrestricted free-agent next summer who could walk with no compensation. This trade, however, removes the Nuggets from the next couple summer’s major free-agent bonanzas. But to have landed a quality veteran point guard (who still has a couple quality years left) to cement between a youthful foursome of Carmelo Anthony, Nene, J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza would have been the ultimate goal of that endeavor, anyway.
On the court, Chauncey will fill an essential role that this team sorely lacks. Billups will be the point guard that they haven’t had since Andre Miller. Chauncey is like Iverson in that he can and likes to hit the big shot (hence the moniker). But contrary to A.I., Chauncey will make it his business to get the rock to Melo and Nene as much as possible. Chauncey also represents the perfect sidekick to Smith. J.R. has been beautifully flashy and at times, ultra-effective, but he has yet to have a role defined for him. Now he does. He should immediately start at the two (which he hasn’t, due to the diminutive one already there) and most importantly, make Anthony Carter and Chucky Atkins (whenever he actually plays) just important back-ups, rather than the big minute eaters they’ve become over the years. Billups is also a better role-model for the still immature Smith on the court. Smith spent the past couple seasons watching A.I. pound, pound, then drive hard to the hole. He needs to be watching a steady guy that will move the ball and get open shots for his teammates, not a player of Iverson’s persuasion.
It also goes without saying that on a team that has been hugely criticized for a comprehensive aversion to playing defense, this move makes Denver better on that side of the floor as well. Billups is the far superior defensive player, and his addition on the perimeter will pay huge dividends, as Nuggets’ fans have watched opposing guards penetrate at will for the past decade.
This past weekend, more moves were made–or I guess, not made–in regards to Kleiza. The Nuggets decided to a) Not pick up the option for next year, and b) Refuse to sign the third-year forward to the extension they gave J.R. over the summer. The nation’s struggling economy aside (that was the public reason given for letting L.K. move toward free agency) Kleiza will be a restricted free-agent next summer and with his poor early season returns, maybe the team decided to wait and see on the Lithuanian who just last year was so coveted that he was considered the hiccup in the deadline Ron Artest rumors.
At the gate (especially on the road) losing a player with a name like Iverson hurts. But to bring home the city and state’s most accomplished professional basketball player is a major coup for the home turnstiles. Billups is not only one of the Colorado’s greatest prep players, but he also endearingly repped our historically anemic University up the road in Boulder for two years. Chauncey’s footprint on the Denver area is large and expansive. He is already largely entrenched in the local community through charities and extended family and his return is sure to bring fans to the Pepsi Center.
On the flip side, as Iverson’s two years or so in Denver come to a close, it must be looked solely as a positive, but ultimately failed experiment. Most doubted his pairing with Melo from the beginning and his style of play just never meshed with the roster’s make-up, and what the Nuggets needed him to do. What they needed from him, should be exactly what Billups brings as a player. Iverson was applauded and supported here in Denver, but with no on-court improvements made during his tenure, it won’t be a real teary goodbye.
So, where does this leave both teams? They swapped guards that do things in entirely different ways and to move from a steady point to a score-first undersized two-guard (and lose the point position all together) makes for some uncertainty in Detroit. It seems uncertain if this trade will make the Pistons a better team and a more viable candidate to supplant Boston as the boss of the Eastern Conference, but I can guarantee you that the Denver Nuggets will be immediately better.