Nothing against Iverson. It's not his fault he was traded to Detroit. He didn't ask for it. He didn't tell Joe Dumars to send Chauncey Billups to Denver. I've known Iverson since his rookie year, and he's always been one of my favorite players. But it's pretty clear that the Pistons are better off without him.
Everybody knew that would be the case when Dumars made the trade. Someday, maybe Dumars will even admit as much. Iverson-for-Billups was a proactive move by Dumars to break up the Pistons before they got old and broke down on their own. At the end of the season, Dumars will have about $30 million in cap space at his disposal when Iverson and Rasheed Wallace come off the books.
But right now, the Pistons are showing that they're still dangerous when they play the way they've played since Iverson got hurt Tuesday night. Without A.I., Detroit might just be a sleeping giant in the East. With A.I., they were a disaster.
It wasn't all Iverson's fault. Spare me all the anti-A.I. rants about Iverson being a cancer. He has been who he is for 13 years, and he's not going to change now. The trade was a gamble from the get-go, and the final score won't be known for two more years.
Here is what has to happen over the next month and a half for the Pistons to make one more push with the core (minus Billups) intact. They have to keep thriving while Iverson is out. They're 3-0 without him so far, and a 5-3 record over the next two weeks would be respectable considering the schedule includes Atlanta, Orlando, Dallas, and Houston before Iverson would theoretically be ready to return March 20 against the Clippers.
Second -- and this is really the most important part -- Iverson has to suck it up and embrace his bench role once he returns. Everything depends on it -- for the Pistons and for Iverson.
Iverson's comments on being replaced in the starting lineup by Richard Hamilton have been classic A.I. Basically, he'll do whatever Michael Curry asks him to do. But then comes the "but," as in, "But I've never come off the bench in my career." But now he has no choice. He has to embrace the role and show teams that might be willing to sign him this summer that he's about the team and not about A.I. Think about all the opportunities he'll have to come in with the second unit and be the primary scorer, which he's been from the day he showed up in Philadelphia in 1996. It's a perfect role for him at this stage of his career, one that Curry should've recognized sooner.
If he doesn't embrace it, the Pistons will suffer and so will Iverson's reputation, which is already damaged enough. My official medical advice to A.I. is to eat two servings of humble pie and call me in two weeks. Then come off the bench for the rest of the season, do what you've done your whole career -- score the ball, without having to worry about getting Hamilton, Sheed, Tayshaun Prince, or anyone else involved -- and reap the benefits this summer when a contender sees how valuable you can be in that role.
These are all things Iverson is perfectly capable of doing. Maybe two weeks is enough time for him to decide that he wants to.