Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Another day, and another reason to have no idea as to what the Denver Nuggets are on about.

Another day, and another reason to be completely wowed by Joe Dumars and his executive savvy, in spite of his noted missteps (Darko, Kwame, Rodney White, etc.).

Woj is reporting that the Nuggets are about to send Allen Iverson to the Pistons for Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess, with frontcourt prospect Cheikh Samb thrown in for Denver as well. Throw in whoever you want. It's an absolute steal for the Pistons.

It's an absolute steal even if Iverson turns an ankle on his way toward Auburn Hills and doesn't play a game for this team, because Dumars just managed to do the exact thing (acquire cap space in one fell swoop) that the Nuggets had been supposedly trying to do all along with AI and his expiring contract.

The Nuggets? I've become convinced that they think the NBA is folding sometime this summer.

Iverson makes almost $21 million this year, in the final year of his contract, and paired with several other expiring contracts on the Detroit roster, we're looking at a Pistons team that could have at least $20 million cap space this summer. Had the Pistons held the current roster together, once you figured in Jason Maxiell's contract extension and the fact that Rip Hamilton and Kwame Brown are likely to pick up their player options, the team was looking at being just a few hundred thousand over the cap, even with Rasheed Wallace's giant expiring contract.

Instead, this team will have Hamilton, Maxiell, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson, and a host of youngsters on the cheap, plus enough money to pull in two huge primo free agents. All in return for a 32-year old point guard who is owed $13 million in 2011, and a F/C who might retire.

And, if AI and Rasheed and the gang work out ... who knows? They probably won't, but there are options. The Pistons now have $31.7 million in expiring contracts to shop around starting at the beginning of the 2009 (when Iverson can be traded again). Dumars might not be done.

As for the Nuggets ... what the hell?

Billups is still a little underrated, he's a terrific point guard in the half-court, and Denver is desperate for a competent ball-handler to feed their still-formidable rosters of scorers and finishers. J.R. Smith will plug in Iverson's old shooting guard slot and score just as much, if not more. No joke. He also has the size to defend better than AI, but this is also J.R. Smith we're talking about, so let's not get carried away.

Meanwhile, should he report, McDyess can still play, he's already been a Nugget twice in his career, and Denver will be in better shape with that duo than they were in just with Iverson.

But at what price? This keeps the Nuggets well over the luxury tax level this season, and it means Denver will be right near it in 2009-10 even with just seven players signed and Linas Kleiza's contract situation in the air. Give Linas seven million a year, and the Nuggets are paying six or seven million in luxury tax with only eight roster spots filled.

And assuming Kleiza gets the sort of contract I mentioned, even with McDyess' contract expiring, the Nuggets are on the books for nearly $70 million in 2010-11 with just Chauncey, Nene, Kenyon Martin, Kleiza, Carmelo Anthony, and J.R. Smith on board. Just six players, well over the cap, and approaching luxury tax territory.

The Nuggets will be better with this trade, this season. Don't doubt it for a second. A backcourt with Smith and Billups playing big minutes and Anthony Carter or Chucky Atkins working in reserve will do far more than any combination with AI pulling in 40 minutes a night, Smith filling in where he could, and Atkins/Carter having to log heavy minutes because nobody else can bring the ball up court.

But it won't be enough to get near New Orleans, the Lakers, Utah, or Houston. And it won't touch San Antonio, when Manu Ginobili gets back. It might be enough to put Denver in the playoffs, but that's about it. And that "it" will be paid handsomely through 2011.

Detroit's taking another chance, and though there's the possibility the team might whiff in free agency, it hardly matters. They've cleared cap space and developed even more options. If nothing happens this summer, then they can run the kids for a year before trying to clamp down on the 2010 free agent market. After all, only Tayshaun Prince ($11.1 million), Jason Maxiell (reportedly about $5 million), and the backcourt tandem of Stuckey and Aaron Afflalo (combined to make $4.7 million) will be on the books that summer.

Nobody, not even Joe Dumars or Iverson himself, will be able to anticipate what sort of impact his presence will have on this year's Pistons team. AI's game is that unique. But given the far-reaching implications of what this deal could do for Detroit, again, it hardly matters in the long run.

It's all dependent on Dumars making another series of good moves with his newfound options, but given the man's past, should we even doubt the man?

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