- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Joe Dumars took a liking to Allen Iverson’s $21 million largesse that comes off the team’s books after the season and ended up scuttling the Pistons‘ season.

That is the economic reality of the NBA that is often at odds with the pursuit of immediate victory.

In making the Chauncey Billups-Iverson trade with the Nuggets in November, Dumars surrendered the foundation of the Pistons but relieved the franchise from the last two years of Billups’ four-year, $46 million contract.

This, of course, has sentenced the Pistons to the short-term pain of no longer being among the elite teams of the Eastern Conference.

After one NBA championship, two trips to the NBA Finals and six consecutive trips to the conference finals, the Pistons as we know them are done, finished, destined to be remade.

After starting the season with a 21-12 record, the Pistons had fashioned an 8-18 record going into their meeting at home against Billups and the Nuggets on Tuesday night.

That leaves them among the ranks of the mediocre and all because of the economic conditions of the NBA.

If Billups were still with the Pistons, there is every reason to believe they would be the No. 4 team in the conference and looking to secure homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs and pull an upset in the second round.

Not that Dumars necessarily erred in making this move. We will not know the outcome of the Billups-Iverson exchange until Dumars makes his follow-up move.

That is the nature of all too many trades in the NBA these days. It is not the initial tinkering that determines whether the move was an advantageous one. It is the follow-up move that determines it.

That does not ease the disappointment of the Pistons’ supporters, accustomed as they are to following a team with championship aspirations each spring.

But Dumars is entrusted with evaluating his personnel with a cold eye, free of the sentimental mush that often afflicts fans who sometimes see players as an extension of their families.

Dumars could see the downward trend of the Pistons: champions in 2004, runners-up in 2005 and ousted in the conference finals three consecutive seasons. Dumars could see that a championship push no longer was a possibility with this aging group, not in a conference whose leading teams were improving.

Dumars could have maintained the status quo, could have presided over a team that won another 50-plus games but fell short in the playoffs, could have been content with an empty-like excellence of sorts.

But that would be inconsistent with the personnel guru who has three championship rings, two from his playing days with the Pistons.

So, for now, there is no basketball fun in Motown. Iverson is sidelined with a bad back, the experiment with Richard Hamilton being the sixth man was a bust and coach Michael Curry has indicated that Iverson will be reduced to coming off the bench as a role player whenever he returns to duty.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, have flourished because of the steadying hand of Billups. They have the third-best record in the Western Conference and the sense of making genuine progress this season.

But they have no realistic chance of getting past both the Lakers and Spurs, depending on how the playoff seeding winds up. The Nuggets also have two more years invested in a 32-year-old point guard with a recent history of tiring in the playoffs.

The Pistons and Nuggets have taken opposite approaches. The Pistons are looking long-term, the Nuggets short-term. Yet if the goal is a championship, Dumars is up on Mark Warkentien, the respective records of the teams be darned.

The Pistons, being in the diminishing returns phase of their basketball life, were not about to overcome the Celtics or Cavaliers in the playoffs. Or even the Magic.

So Dumars secured an expiring contract to begin the rebuilding process.

Unsatisfying as clearing salary-cap space may be to fans around the NBA, that is the economics of the game.

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