In the NBA, acquiring talent and getting your talent to properly combust are the real tricks of the trade. But what looks good on the drawing board -- like, say, the Denver Nuggets' pairing of body-modified human pinball machines Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson (see image below) -- more often makes you wanna rip your hair out by the roots. That's what happened in the Mile High City after the high-scoring Tattoo Twinkies stopped scoring so high and got smoked in the first round of the playoffs two years running.
Live by the periodic table, die by the periodic table, and the Nuggets finally decided to pull the plug on their little experiment a few games into the '08 season by shipping Iverson and his $20.8 million-per contract to the Detroit Pistons for point guard Chauncey Billups and forward Antonio McDyess. Since McDyess was waived by the Nuggets less than a week later, the deal was essentially Chauncey for AI. On paper, it looked like a half-court dunk for the Pistons, who finally snagged a pure scorer -- And one with the third-highest career average in NBA history -- to bolster their scanty offense.
But one thing science can't quantify is heart, and AI's never really had one. Great scorer. So what?
The numbers bear out our disdain: In his first 18 games with Detroit, the Pistons went 9-9. Iverson's 2008 points-per-game average is17 and change, down from a career 27.5. His other stats are wilting, too, in Detroit's defense-minded setup.
Now consider Chauncey Billups. Talented and respected, for sure, but no tennis-shoe megastar, and no spring chicken (for a pure point guard) at 32. So what's the University of Colorado alum done with his ticket home? Points: 17.7, up from a career average of 14.9. (Dude's outscoring Iverson!) Assists: 7, up from 5.5. Denver's record over the same period: 16-5, with the only losses coming against Cleveland (in Cleveland), the Lakers (in L.A.), New Orleans, San Antonio, and the Rockets (in Houston).
Heart: as big as the Grinch's, post-redemption.
See Billups and the new-look Nuggets when they take on Your Phoenix Suns, another team in search of chemical balance, at 7 p.m. Saturday, at U.S. Airways Center. See www.nba.com/suns. TV: FSN AZ. Radio: KTAR-AM 620. -- Clay McNear