March 4, 2009
When the Detroit Pistons traded for Allen Iverson just three games into the season we were pumped about the deal. The most significant factor was, of course, Iverson’s expiring $21.9 million deal – the second-largest contract in the NBA and the biggest salary cap relief to be found anywhere. After winning the NBA Championship in 2004 we had seen several seasons of stagnation in which the Pistons were annual also-rans, looking very good but never good enough to repeat. It was time for a shakeup, and the expiring deal along with Rasheed Wallace’s $13.7 mill coming off the books would expedite the process of a mini rebuilding around players like Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson, Arron Afflalo and Jason Maxiell.
Nothing that happens this season will do anything to take that all-valuable cap space away, so we can’t call the deal a total bust.
Let’s be honest though: we all thought there was a decent chance that Iverson could have just as big of an impact on the court this season. Iverson was one of the premier scorers in NBA history, pound for pound one of the fiercest competitors in the league, a savvy and cagey player who can manufacture offense and a seasoned veteran with perhaps more desire for the validation of a title than any other. Nobody disagreed: Allen Iverson is a true sparkplug who knows how to win and can transform a well-constructed roster of role players into title contenders.
He’s a superstar, a difference maker. Right?
Not so fast.
Why Allen Iverson is no longer a winner, after the jump…
News out of Detroit has Iverson missing at least the next two weeks with an ailing back, perhaps even the rest of the season, and Pistons fans can be excused for welcoming the news. Those Detroit backers, unaccustomed to watching their team hover around .500 and desperately cling to a playoff spot at this point in the season, may just be correct in welcoming his absence.
In six games without Iverson this season Detroit has gone 5-1. Over the last three games sans AI they’ve strung together three impressive wins at Orlando (44-16, third seed out East), at Boston (47-14, second seed in the East) and vs Denver (39-22, fourth seed in the West). It’s been their most impressive stretch of the season. And speaking of that Denver squad, it’s extremely telling how have they done with Chauncey Billups and without AI this season. After going 1-2 to start the season with Iverson, they’re 38-20 with Billups, good for a 65.6% winning pace, sixth-best in the NBA despite missing Carmelo Anthony for a large stretch of the season.
Outside of Denver’s high-octane offense and Philadelphia’s “Anything for Allen” system Iverson’s numbers are down almost across the board. He’s scoring a career-low 18 points a game on a putrid 41.7% shooting from the floor. Well, I guess that field-goal shooting isn’t too far off his unsightly career 42.5% clip. More importantly, his season +/- stands at -41. That’s not the line of a difference maker. Even worse, his team-high 15 field-goal attempts per game and ball-dominating style of play has been stifling both Rip Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey all season. Both have been either forced to play out of position or completely change their game on both ends of the floor to accommodate his needy style on offense and size deficiency on defense. It’s no coincidence that Stuckey has finally broken out of a month-long slump the last three games and that the Pistons back-court has thrived in the big wins.
Listen, we’ve been more than willing to give Allen Iverson a long leash this season. We’ve been patient. We’ve criticized those who jumped on him after early-season struggles. But the time has come, 60 games into the season, to face facts: Allen Iverson is no longer an impact player.
If Detroit thrives over the next two-plus weeks with the so-called Answer on the sidelines it will only cement that fact. Iverson will no doubt be looking for a big contract this off-season, the final big payday of his high-on-scoring, low-on-results career. He’s not going to find it, and it won’t be just because of a depressed economy. Prospective employers will no longer just be asking, “Is Allen Iverson worth the money?” but “Will Allen Iverson even make us a better team?”
Allen Iverson photo credit: Icon SMI