Billups On Being Dealt For Iverson: "We All Know It Was A Bad Trade"

"What they lost in Detroit was their heart and soul."

Will Burchfield
July 13, 2018 - 7:46 am

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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With Chauncey Billups playing the point, the Pistons went to the conference finals for six straight years and captured an NBA championship in 2004. They traded him early in the 2008-09 season and haven't won a playoff series since. 

While this might seem like a point of pride for Billups, that's hardly the case. 

"There’s obviously a lot that you can unpack there. Let me just say this. I am a diehard Piston, and I don’t like to see the Pistons struggle at all. The years that I was there with the great teams that we had, it was unbelievable, it really was, but I don’t like to see them struggle. I want to see the Pistons on top by any means necessary," Billups told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. 

But Detroit's downturn since the trade validates what Billups already knew at the time: then-Pistons GM Joe Dumars made a big mistake in shipping Billups to Denver as part of a deal for Allen Iverson. 

"You look back to that trade, we all know that it was a bad trade. Joe D took a gamble there that didn’t really work out," Billups said. "But Joe did a masterful job putting our team together, and he’s the reason why I got the opportunity that I got to become a star there, so much gratitude I have for Joe D. But he made a mistake with that move, and anybody could tell you that.

"It wasn’t so much of my talent matched up against A.I.’s talent. What they lost in Detroit was the heart and soul and their leader. Leadership is often times undervalued in sports. It goes far deeper than the stats and if a guy’s averaging 18 and 8 or whatever the numbers are. If that guy’s the leader of the team you can’t replace that, and that’s what we’ve inevitably seen." 

After averaging 26.4 points and 7.1 assists with the Nuggets the year prior to the trade, Iverson fell to 17.4 points and 4.9 assists over 54 games in his lone season with the Pistons. Detroit was swept in the first round of the playoffs with Iverson sidelined due to a back injury. He signed with the Grizzlies that offseason. 

Billups, meanwhile, would spend two more seasons with the Nuggets, making his fifth straight All-Star Game in 2009-10, before being dealt to the Knicks in 2011. He signed with the Pistons in 2013 to finish his career where it began in earnest. 

When he came to the Pistons in 2002, Billups, then 25, had played for four teams in the prior five years. Not only was he still trying to prove that "I could be a starter," he said, "but that I could be one of the best players in the league at my position." His MVP Award in the 2004 Finals quickly served as proof. 

Over his six full seasons with the Pistons, Billups averaged 17.0 points and 6.3 assists. He put up almost identical numbers in the playoffs, and, of course, hit a slew of big shots. The Pistons retired his No. 1 in 2016. 

"I spent some of the best years of my life, not just basketball, but of my life in the city of Detroit," Billups said. "Everybody knows how much I love the people there, the fans, everything about the city I have a strong affinity with, and I know it’s reciprocated." 

Looking back on his Pistons career, Billups said his "shining moment" was knocking off the loaded Lakers in the 2004 Finals. Nearly 15 years later, the Pistons stand as one of the last teams in the NBA to win a championship without a legitimate superstar. 

"I’m super proud of that. We did what will never be done again. In our minds and in our fans’ minds -- who, as far as I’m concerned, are the people that know basketball -- we were a Superteam. We proved that in the way that we won and the way that we beat a Superteam that the vast majority of basketball fans believed that the Lakers were – and they were. But we beat them and we beat them handily," Billups said. 

Still, the moment that sticks with him the most is the dagger delivered by the Spurs' Robert Horry in Game 5 of the Finals a year later. Horry's game-winning three staked San Antonio to a 3-2 lead, and the Spurs would win the series in 7. 

"100 percent. I’ve never gotten over that game, I never will, so much so that I think more about losing in the back of my head than winning against the Lakers," Billups said. "I felt like we were good enough and we should have won against the Spurs. ... I rewind that play all the time, man, and still get mad about it. Sucks, bro, it sucks." 

Billups retired in 2014 and joined ESPN as an NBA analyst a year later. He's hoping to one day become a front-office executive for an NBA team. There were rumors that he might get his chance with the Pistons after they parted ways with Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower earlier this offseason, but a reunion never came to be. Billups, it sounds, certainly would have been game for the job. 

"There was a lot of speculation obviously with Detroit, but they made the decisions that they made and I’m fine with that," he said. "I think they got a lot of experience with Ed Stefanski, and I’m sure he’s gonna do a wonderful job. He’s got his work cut out for him -- anybody would coming in with a salary cap that way.

"But, listen, I’m such a big Detroit Pistons fan that I just want to see them win. The fact that I’m not there helping that is a non-issue. They made the decisions that they made based on what they felt was best for the organization, and I’m not gonna disagree with them. I mean, I’m pretty sure they did the right thing, and they got a great coach as well.

"I’m just happy and hoping that, boom, we can make some noise as an organization this year. I’ll get my opportunity at some point wherever that might be, and I’ll be ready when that happens, but I’m just happy for the Pistons." 

Billups is back in Detroit as a member of the Big3 basketball league, which comes to Little Caesars Arena Friday night. Billups won't be able to play, however, because of a recent knee surgery. 

"I've been trying to rush back, and it's just not quite ready. I'm very disappointed because I begged (league founder) Ice Cube to put Detroit on the scedule this year so I could play in front of my home crowd. I'm very disppointed with that, especially because I wanted to have a chance to beat up on Rick Mahorn, the other team's coach," Billups cracked. "So, man, I'm mad, but I'm excited too. This is going to be a very good event."