When the news broke on November 3rd that the Nuggets had traded future Hall-of-Famer Allen Iverson to the Detroit Pistons for hometown hero Chauncey Billups, Friday night's Pistons at Nuggets game immediately became the biggest home game of the season.
All day tomorrow you're going to hear the following numbers over and over: 24-9 vs. 17-12. That's the Nuggets record with Billups and the Pistons record with Iverson, respectively. The fact that the Nuggets have won 73% of their games with Billups is almost jaw dropping. Whereas the Pistons seem to have shaken off the Iverson integration process by winning seven of their last eight games (god forbid they beat the Blazers on Wednesday night) and are on pace for a respectable 52-win season.
All that being said, this trade is still a win-win for both organizations. The Nuggets got exactly what they wanted: a quality point guard to feed, control and lead a talented lineup lacking a true leader. And the same goes for the Pistons. They wanted immediate cap relief while still remaining competitive in the Eastern Conference, and any team featuring a semi-healthy A.I. will be competitive. He's that good.
What I find interesting - and I say this as an admitted A.I. fan - is that the Pistons inconsistency with whom they beat and whom they don't beat with Iverson feels a lot like last season's Nuggets. With Iverson, the Pistons have some big time wins against big time opponents, like the Lakers, Cavaliers, Spurs and Magic. And yet they've lost to several of the NBA's bottom feeders, like the Timberwolves, Wizards, 76ers and Knicks. Comparatively, the Nuggets with Billups haven't lost a single game to a sub-.500 team, and only lose to big time opponents.
I'm not trying to pick on Iverson now that he's out of Denver (I'll leave that to George Karl...I couldn't resist), but I thought it was worth pointing out. Because as we witnessed with the 2007-08 Nuggets - perhaps the single most disappointing 50-win season in NBA history - those handful of unacceptable losses can be the difference between an eighth seed and a fourth seed in the playoffs.
Before signing off for the night, I want to tell a quick A.I. story that I've been meaning to post about because I think it's cute and says a lot about his tenure in a Nuggets uniform.
Soon after A.I. was traded to Denver in early January 2007, my mother saw him at the Mexican restaurant Tula off of Josephine in Cherry Creek. Completely unaware of A.I.'s reputation from his Philadelphia days as being closed off and downright surly with strangers who approached him in public, my mother (being my mother) decides to go up and say hi. As she tells the story, A.I. was sitting at the bar with one of his (gigantic) boys minding his own business. My mother goes up to him and says: "Are you Allen Iverson?" He turns toward her and with a skeptical look on his face responds: "Uh, yeah." And then my mother serves up: "I'm a lifelong Nuggets season ticket holder, and I just want you to know that we love how hard you play, are thrilled to have you here and hope you stay for a long time" or something along those lines. She said A.I. instantaneously smiled from ear to ear and said glowingly: "Thank you. Thank you so much. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that." And then added that it looked like the weight of the world had just been lifted from his shoulders. As if he could finally be a normal guy in a normal place.
I'm sure after all the years in Virginia, Georgetown and then Philadelphia, A.I. must have been tugged, pestered, and bothered by so many people wanting so many things from him that playing basketball was his only respite from the nonsense. My mother's story was a quick, one-minute encounter. But I bet you A.I. genuinely loved his time in Denver and wished he could have finished his career as a Nugget. And if that story doesn't convince you, watch this video posted on the Rocky Mountain News' website...
Friday night's matchup is sure to be an emotional one for A.I., Billups and their former teammates and coaches on both sides. I hope A.I. has a great game - I really do - and the Nuggets squash them by 15.