- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
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In June, Pistons president Joe Dumars promised to shake things up after Detroit lost for the third straight time in the Eastern Conference finals.
"Make no mistake, everybody is in play right now," Dumars said then. "There are no sacred cows here. You lose that sacred cow status when you lose three straight years."
But one week into the season, Dumars pulled the trigger on a deal with the Nuggets. On Monday, the Pistons decided to take the Nuggets' second-best player, agreeing to a swap of Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for Denver's Allen Iverson.
The move is stunning for several reasons.
One, Dumars' original strategy was to package a couple of the Pistons' core players for a young, emerging star. But Iverson is 33 years old. While he's still an excellent scorer, his best years are behind him.
Two, it appeared the Pistons weren't interested in a deal that would essentially just clear cap space. But with Iverson hitting free agency this summer, that's exactly what this deal appears to be.
So what's going on in Detroit?
Whatever you want to say about Joe Dumars, the guy isn't afraid to take risks. Some of them, like drafting Darko Milicic, a little-known 17-year-old, have backfired (though swapping Milicic for the right to draft Rodney Stuckey has mitigated that decision). But most of the time, Dumars has shown the Midas touch in making risky moves. Whether it's making trades for Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace, drafting Tayshaun Prince, signing Billups to a big deal or letting Ben Wallace go, Dumars has proven he knows what he's doing.
My conversation with Dumars on Monday revealed at least four key factors in this latest gambit:
First, he has always been a fan of Iverson. In the summer of 2000, the Pistons made an aggressive move to acquire Iverson in a whopping, 14-player deal. At the last second, the deal was scuttled when Matt Geiger refused to waive his trade kicker.
At the time, Iverson was in his prime, just months away from winning the NBA MVP award. These days, Iverson doesn't have the same speed or quickness, but he's still a devastating offensive force, averaging 26.4 points and 7.1 assists per game last season. Both of those numbers would have been team highs for the Pistons.
Iverson gives the Pistons more punch, especially at the end of games. While he's not the defender or distributor Billups is, he immediately steps in as the team's best scorer.
Dumars will welcome Iverson's fiery attitude as well -- the Pistons' boss had felt his team was too complacent.
All in all, the Pistons feel that with Iverson they will be just as competitive as they were with Billups.
Second, the emergence of Stuckey made Billups expendable. Dumars believes Stuckey is the point guard of the future in Detroit. Billups has four more years on his contract, and Dumars didn't want Stuckey playing a sixth man role that long.
While it's likely Iverson will start in the backcourt with Richard Hamilton this season, when Iverson hits free agency next year, Stuckey should take over as the starting point guard in Detroit.
Stuckey has proven to be an explosive scorer. His point guard skills are still in question, but the Pistons believe he'll be just fine with more experience. Many around the league see Stuckey as a young Baron Davis type of point guard. He had better be, because Dumars is showing extraordinary faith in him by making this move.
To a lesser extent, moving McDyess is also about providing opportunity for young players -- in particular, the emerging frontcourt of Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson. The Pistons are high on both players and want to know by the summer if they have what it takes to anchor the Pistons' inside game.
Third, trading Billups and McDyess for Iverson will clear significant salary cap space for the Pistons. If Dumars lets both Iverson and Detroit's other significant free agent, Rasheed Wallace, walk next summer, the team will be approximately $21-22 million under the cap.
The 2009 free-agent class has a number of interesting players the Pistons could pursue. Carlos Boozer can opt out of his contract and could prove to be a big upgrade at the power forward position. The Pistons could also pursue restricted free agents such as Marvin Williams and David Lee.
Or the Pistons could be patient and wait until the summer of 2010, when the star-studded free-agent class is expected to include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who might be Detroit's most realistic target.
Fourth, the Pistons have set a high standard in Detroit the past few years, and Dumars did not want to go through a long, messy rebuilding process.
Dumars should still have a very competitive team this season. With a core of Iverson, Hamilton, Stuckey, Prince and Wallace, the Pistons are still in the elite tier in the Eastern Conference.
Though the team may take a small step backward next year with both Iverson and Wallace potentially leaving, the development of Stuckey, Maxiell and Johnson should keep the Pistons very competitive. And in the next two years, if the Pistons can add a significant piece or two, they may well return to power in the East.
All that said, this trade presents significant risks for the Pistons.
First, they have to hope Iverson is able to mix well with his teammates and keep his focus on the Pistons' success, even though he knows he'll probably be in Detroit for only this season. If he begins fretting about his lack of an extension, it could be a major distraction in Detroit.
Second, Dumars is banking on Stuckey being the real deal. His talent is undeniable, but he has to become a star to justify the trade.
Third, the Pistons are still weak on their front line. By trade or free agency, Dumars needs to bring in a significant player to help down low with both scoring and defense. If he doesn't, Detroit will struggle to remain among the elite teams in the East.
Once again, Joe Dumars has made a major gamble. But if his track record means anything, we shouldn't bet against Joe D.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN.com.
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