Just three days ago I put up a poll asking when AI was going to be traded.

Accordign to Michigan Live the answer is The Answer will be shipped out before Election Day as is heading to Detroit in exchange for Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess (who apparently will be bought out in an attempt to get the Nuggets under the luxury tax).

It has been obvious that the Nuggets were in need of a point guard even since they traded Andre Miller to Philly in exchange for Iverson. AI has always been more of a shooting guard than a point and while they received some great effort from Anthony Carter, he left much to be desired.

My number two offseason priority for Denver was finding a point guard. I guess three games into the season is close enough to the offseason where we can say they got the job done. When I laid out the specifications after last year that I would like to see in a point guard Chauncey Billups is almost a prefect match. He is unselfish, knows how to set up his teammates and can run an offense, he has the size and willingness to play defense and he can shoot it from downtown. He is nearly a perfect fit.

Keeping that in mind the question is does Billups accomplish what AI could not and make the Nuggets a contender? I think this trade clearly makes the Nuggets a better team right now, and probably next year too, but I have to say at this point they are still not a contender at the level of the Lakers, Hornets and Jazz. I do think this trade will put them firmly in the playoffs ahead of teams like the Spurs, Suns and Mavericks though and they will be a much tougher out than they have been the previous five seasons. With the new defensive focus and intensity we have seen and with the addition of a player in Billups, who will fit better than AI in a half court setting and will add another player capable of hitting 40% of his threes to pair with J.R., the Nuggets are going to be a team to be reckoned with.

There are some other ramifications of the trade to consider as well. First of all, it does save the Nuggets money this season, which I pointed out was bound to be a prerequisite for any Iverson trade. Just how much they are saving I am not sure of as I am still waiting on the final figures to determine exactly how much will come off the books for this season. However, in the long run the Nuggets are committing to more salary as Billups has two more seasons that are guaranteed on his deal after this one with a team option for a third.

If there is a downside to this deal it is Billups’ contract (two more guaranteed years after this one) and age (32). The good news is his game is not dependent on quickness and penetration like Iverson’s is so he should age gracefully on offense. The danger is on defense as he will struggle to stay in front of the elite point guards of the Western Conference although to be fair, who doesn’t. Denver basically has two seasons to build the roster around Billups, Melo, J.R., Nene and Kenyon before they can do what they did with AI and deal Billups as he enters the last year of his deal.

The addition of his salary to next season’s salary structure pretty much ensures the Nuggets are not going to use the trade exception they acquired in the Camby trade next summer, at least not for a high salary player. That is not all bad though as another benefit of this trade is that it reduces the need to use the exception. Looking at a best case scenario for using that trade exception to bring in an established point guard the Nuggets could have maybe acquired Kirk Hinrich, but I like Billups better as a distributor and a shooter. On the other hand they can still use a small portion of the trade exception to bring in a role player or someone on the cheap to help fill some holes on the roster and that is a plus. The Nuggets still have some assets to play with, but for the most part this core will be the team we watch for at lest this season and next.

The Nuggets now will be starting Billups, J.R, Melo, Kenyon and Nene. That is a very good starting five capable of both scoring and playing stout defense. For all the hatred spouted at the Nuggets over the Camby trade, there is no doubt that today the team is better than they were at the end of last season and to top things off they are far cheaper as well.

As far as Antonio McDyess goes, I guess a third tenure in Denver was a bit much for everyone to handle although he would have provided a nice option behind Nene and Kenyon Martin. At the end of the day the Nuggets have saved a lot of money and are in position financially to sign another player (Elton Brown anyone?) as cheap front court insurance.

One thing I do not want to lose site of in the excitement of this trade is I wanted to comment on the Allen Iverson Era in Denver. The Iverson deal made the Nuggets relevant and a dark horse for a title entering last season which was a rarity for Nugget fans. He gave it his all night in and night out and no matter what you think of him personally off the court or his style on it he was fun to watch. I have no idea how he will fare in Detroit, maybe Dumars wants him for his expiring deal as much as for his talents as a player, but Piston fans need not wonder if he wants to win. He may be slowing on offense, but he will be bringing a new defensive mindset with him to Detroit so that is a nice little bonus thanks to George Karl.

So to AI, thank you for the year and a half you spent in Denver and good luck in Detroit or wherever else you may end up.

With that welcome back home Chauncey and once again there is hope and excitement in Denver.

Update: ESPN is reporting that big man Cheikh Samb is included in the deal as well.