Iverson's new role: The next Will Bynum
A.I. to play a secondary role after Pistons take down the champs
You know, the team that has been to six straight conference finals, the team that confidently shrugged off its past regular-season hiccups as just that -- hiccups.
The team that looked like it still had a little fight left in its brittle old bones, just as it did two nights earlier in defeating another Eastern Conference powerhouse, Orlando.
"We've played our best ball when we've had guys out," coach Michael Curry said after Detroit stunned the Boston Celtics 105-95 on Sunday. "When we have all our components, we still got to find a way to play the exact way we played this game -- the way we focused on what we were doing defensively, the way we shared the ball on the offensive end. We were good. We didn't stay on one side of the floor, a lot of times the secondary guys got the shot. Guys were moving the ball, they were willing passers, and we took care of the basketball and gave ourselves a good chance on the offensive end."
In other words, they didn't have to deal with playing alongside one player who needs to dominate the ball in order to be effective, didn't have to alter their games out of deference to the ego of someone who arrived four games into a season that has been turned upside-down ever since.
But it'll be Iverson who will have to adjust to a new, secondary role -- and, listening to Curry after Sunday's game, you got the crystal-clear impression that Iverson's role is going to be a lot more secondary than anyone could have ever expected.
Two games after deciding to permanently return Richard Hamilton to the starting lineup and begin bringing Iverson off the bench, Curry went so far as to say he plans to use more of the alignment that was surprisingly effective Sunday: Tayshaun Prince at the 2-guard spot alongside point guard Rodney Stuckey, with Walter Herrmann playing the small forward position.
"Maybe Allen comes in and plays a lot of time at Will Bynum's spot," Curry said.
Bynum spent all of 12 minutes on the court Sunday as the backup point guard, so it was quite the eyebrow-raiser to hear Curry slot Iverson into that role in the future.
But when you look at the body of work Iverson has produced in his time with Detroit -- the team went 22-28 in his 50 games as a starter -- and when you hear the Pistons' brain trust speaking of their future cap room (they'll have about $21 million, the second-most in the NBA next summer behind only Oklahoma City) like it will be some sort of a panacea, you realize that this is the Pistons' last, best chance to make one more run at glory with the same core of players (minus Billups, of course) who have made them such a steady commodity through the majority of this decade.
Iverson still has not spoken publicly since learning of his demotion following the Pistons' loss at New Orleans on Wednesday. He returned to Detroit to have an MRI on his back, and he will likely remain silent Monday since Curry is giving the Pistons the day off following an eight-game road trip.
If he has something to say about his demotion (and he sure had a lot to say the last time a coach tried to bring him off the bench, as Chris Ford will testify), it'll have to wait another day or two.
Not that what Iverson has to say is going to change anything, though.
For now, and for the rest of this season (barring injuries), Iverson is coming off the bench.
"That's going to be the last move," Curry said. "It's nothing against how Allen has played. It's just with Rip in that first group, it seems more guys in that group play better. I knew Rip could play off the bench because he's an efficient scorer, he can score right away.
"I'm still not sure how well A.I. can play off the bench, and that's what we're going to have to find out. He's been in a tough situation all year, and so has everyone else. But this is the team we have, and if we can find ways for guys to do it together -- and willingly do it together -- we've got a chance to be pretty good."
Just like they used to be, and just like they looked Sunday -- like the Pistons of old, the pre-Iverson Pistons.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.