Roundtable: Iverson's potential impact, reassessing Oden and more
It's debatable whether Allen Iverson makes the Pistons a better team right now
Coach Mike D'Antoni is establishing himself as a firm leader with the Knicks
Greg Oden should face more modest expectations when he returns from injury
SI.com NBA writers Ian Thomsen, Marty Burns, Jack McCallum and Chris Mannix will analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. Have a question you'd like answered? E-mail us at email@example.com.
Thomsen: I think I'm in the minority on this one, but I believe they could be better. The Pistons need energy in the playoffs and I can see Iverson providing that. This is his best, and maybe last, shot at a championship. Plus, he's playing for a new contract. It is the perfect circumstance in which to employ him, and he'll do anything he can manage to adapt to the larger goals of the team.
Burns: While Iverson will provide a needed spark, and the trade has great long-term benefits, I don't think it's going to get Detroit past the Celtics or Cavs in the Eastern Conference this season. Iverson is a scoring machine and a future Hall of Famer. But he's not a true point guard (as Larry Brown learned in Philly before he moved him off the ball, a move that resulted in the team's trip to the Finals). The Pistons are going to miss Billups' ability to distribute the ball and his bigger body on defense.
McCallum: The 32-year-old Billups has no doubt lost a step or two, while the 33-year-old Iverson has lost only half a step, an odds-defying reality considering how much he gets banged around. Then, too, Billups has not been able to really deliver in the postseason since 2004, the year Detroit won the championship and he was MVP of the Finals, and he has three guaranteed years remaining on a big contract. That suggests this was a business decision, perhaps even a wise one. But the question is about wins and losses, not business, and even with Billups' decline, I don't see how the acquisition of Iverson makes the Pistons better. When they did make an official point-guard switch, I figured they would just hand the ball to Rodney Stuckey, who is more than ready to lead. However, I add this coda: If Joe Dumars thinks it will work, maybe it will.
Mannix: In a word, no. The Pistons probably weren't title contenders with Billups anyway; Boston is still head and shoulders above them and Cleveland looks poised to vault past them this year. But at the core of the Pistons' success the last six seasons has been their defense, and as one Eastern coach told me Monday night, "Iverson is a defensive liability." The addition of Iverson certainly makes Detroit an interesting offensive bunch, and if Antonio McDyess pulls a Brent Barry and returns to Detroit after the Nuggets waive him, the deal becomes more palatable. But at the end of the day, the Pistons won't leapfrog the Celtics (yet) with an inexperienced Stuckey playing more minutes at the point and an aging Iverson filling in at both guard positions. It's just not enough.
Thomsen: It instant-messages the team that D'Antoni is going to be a firm leader. Marbury is unpopular in the locker room, and the move to bench him will be appreciated by the same players who didn't like seeing Marbury welcomed back early last season after he briefly left the team. Curry hasn't been in shape despite knowing the demands of D'Antoni's rapid style of play, so the team moves on without him while Zach Randolph exploits scoring opportunities by sprinting up the floor.
Burns: As they say at La Scala, "Bravo!" for D'Antoni. D'Antoni's mandate in New York is to rebuild for long-term success. If it means angering a couple of players, or even losing a few more games in the short term, so be it.
McCallum: The benching of Curry and Marbury was absolutely not a surprise. Curry showed up like a blimp, and Marbury was never in the Knicks' plans. Too much baggage from the previous administration. However, the scenarios will play out differently. Marbury will be gone, one way or another, but Curry will be in the rotation eventually. They have to play Curry, even with all his excess avoirdupois, because they are too small and too bereft of points inside without him.
Mannix: Over the last two seasons, no team has personified the "inmates running the asylum" cliché more than the Knicks. Marbury abandons his teammates in Phoenix and Isiah Thomas plays him 34 minutes the next night. Curry can't defend a lamppost and averages fewer rebounds than Quentin Richardson, and Thomas starts him in 58 of the 59 games he played last season. D'Antoni is finally holding them accountable for what they are: underachieving, overpaid malcontents.
3. What are reasonable expectations for Greg Oden when he returns from a foot injury?
Thomsen: Expect very little. The Trail Blazers should demand as much. He has been out a long time and he's very young. The Blazers are a young franchise from their front office all the way down to the backcourt. All of them have a lot to learn and prove before they'll contend for a championship, so it's not like Oden's development is holding them back from realizing their potential. Give him time.
Burns: At this point, Blazers fans would probably settle for Oden just making it through a single game. But assuming the oft-injured 7-footer avoids the Martin/Walton/Bowie curse and makes it back on the court this season, 10 points and 10 rebounds per game would not be unreasonable. Oden's biggest contributions were never going to be about big numbers anyway. His role for this current Portland team was to be a dominating interior presence, a huge body to defend the post, block shots and control the backboards. If he can provide that dimension right away, Blazers fans should be more than happy.
McCallum: To be a guy who stays healthy and gives them 28 minutes a game of solid shot-blocking, lane-clogging defense. I honestly believe the Blazers would settle for that at this point.
Mannix: Oden should be expected to defend like Russell and score like Wilt. Kidding, of course, but the expectations for him have been pretty ridiculous recently. The truth is, the player Oden should strive to be like as a rookie is the man everyone dreads comparing him to: Sam Bowie. He was a solid, capable starting center as a rookie in 1984-85, averaging 10.0 points and 8.6 rebounds. Oden has the tools to be great. But he's 20 years old. Let's give him some time to get there.
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