Allen Iverson can be selfish — a ball hog as some say. He can be petulant, moody, disdainful of those who write about the game for a living. He is pugnacious and sometimes thinks it’s him vs. the world. He, famously, sometimes has problems with practice. He’s loathe to give anyone else the last shot in crunch time.
Translated: he’s exactly what the Pistons need.
The 33-year-old Iverson is about to become a Piston today, according to all reports. He may already be one, officially, by the time you’re reading this.
The trade is this: guard Chauncey Billups and power forward/center Antonio McDyess to the Denver Nuggets for Iverson.
First thought: a good deal for both teams.
Second thought: a good deal for both teams — and a better one for the Pistons.
We’ve said all sorts of things about the Pistons over the past five years, when they’ve been annual threats to win their conference, if not the whole league. But a couple constants have appeared in the discussion: 1) the Pistons don’t have that “one guy” — that superstar that other teams who win championships have; and 2) why do they keep getting upended in the conference finals?
I think the answer to both concerns lies in, well, “The Answer” — which just happens to be Iverson’s nickname.
Billups might be initially missed, even mourned, by some Pistons fans. He was Mr. Big Shot, though I think that was largely a Detroit myth. The truth, and this may be unseemly to the mourners, is that Chauncey never really elevated his game in the playoffs. He didn’t. Sometimes he was hurt. But Iverson has been hurt, and you’d hardly know it. The Pistons’ inability to beat back the likes of the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, and even the Boston Celtics in the Final Four can be directly traced to Billups’s inability to beat back his point guard counterpart in those series.
But still, Billups, it could be argued, was the team’s glue. He was captain and point guard, a lethal combo in the NBA if you crave leadership in your player. Think Isiah Thomas in his heyday. But Billups wasn’t Thomas — not even close, really. At best, he was a poor man’s Thomas. At worst, he was a drag to the Pistons’ playoff hopes.
This sounds rough, I know — and I don’t mean to be, because Chauncey Billups is a damn good basketball player, and he did a lot for the Pistons. In the regular season. But did you, in your heart of hearts, believe that another playoff run with Billups at the helm was going to end all that much differently? After his mediocre performance in the past three springs?
One of my faithful readers called me as the trade was being reported, and expressed this concern about Iverson: “Isn’t he kind of a ball hog?”
Yes! Thank God!
Pistons finally have an “Answer” to their lack of a superstar quandary
This brings me to the other tired Pistons talking point, bantied about even when they were winning the title in 2004. That talking point is that the team never had a true “go to” guy on their roster. For a while, we tried to sugarcoat that as some sort of badge of honor. You know, the old “Who needs a superstar when you have a bunch of good players?” argument. But as the time lengthened since that ’04 championship, it was evident: the Pistons’ lack of a true superstar wasn’t a plus. It was a definite minus.
The Heat beat them in 2006 behind the superhuman efforts of Dwyane Wade. The Cavs drummed them out of the ’07 playoffs behind the superhuman efforts of LeBron James. And the ’08 Celtics slapped them around in Games 3 and 6 of the conference finals behind the superhuman efforts of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. All while the Pistons looked at each other and wondered who their “go to” guy was going to be.
Having five guys on the floor who could all potentially take the game-winning shot sounds very nice and benevolent, but it’s a losing way of doing things. It’s the old mantra: if you have five game-winning shot guys, you have none.
Well, now the Pistons have one.
Allen Iverson should take every single game-winning shot for the Pistons this season, and for however long he remains with the team. It shouldn’t matter if all five of the opponents and 20,000 people in the stands, plus those watching on television, and even your Aunt Josephine and the cashier at Walgreen’s know it. Give Iverson the ball and let him do his thing. Like it or not, it’s how championships are won — when the supporting players know to get out of the way at the right time.
Sometimes you need a ball hog. Like at the end of games, when you need a play to be made. Remember how much flak James took after passing up a game-winning shot against the Pistons in the ’07 conference finals in order to feed the ball to Donyell Marshall, who missed a three-pointer? Then remember what James did to the Pistons in Game 5 after he learned that lesson? He literally beat them all by himself. Selfishness is good, at times.
As for the Nuggets, they get a hometown kid in Billups (who finally ends up in his native Denver after playing just about everywhere else in his pre-Pistons days) who is more of a pass-first, shoot-second point guard. This allows Carmelo Anthony to regain the claim of the Nuggets being “his” team. And while McDyess is a very nice man who deserves to win a title, the Nuggets can probably use him more than the Pistons, who are grooming guys like Amir Johnson, Jason Maxiell, and Walter Herrmann in their frontcourt and in the swing.
Ball hogs have done alright in this league. There was someone named Michael Jordan, who only wears six rings. Larry Bird was hardly the epitome of selflessness when games had to be won in the playoffs. Wade ball hogged his way to the 2006 title. Kobe Bryant comes to mind, too — even with Shaquille O’Neal in his midst with the old Lakers teams. And Kobe just might ball hog his way to another title sometime soon, like this season.
Billups won the 2004 NBA Finals MVP largely by default. It was definitely a testament to the Pistons that no single player really stood out as being any more valuable than the other that spring. Their supposed “team first” method was lauded as having beaten the allegedly selfish style of the star-ladened Lakers. For one year, it was true. It was also an anomaly — an exception to a normally hard and fast rule.
Ball hogs and selfish superstars. Petulant point guards and snarling punks. They’re not always as toxic as advertised.
The Pistons could use a player like that. They haven’t had one, really, since the Bad Boys days.
Isiah Thomas didn’t always pass, contrary to popular belief.