No, they're not.
Before looking at what this does to the Nuggets roster, I want to take a moment to praise Joe Dumars.
The New Look Pistons
With this trade, Joe Dumars has simultaneously given his team a chance at an NBA title run while completing one of the best salary dumps in recent memory. Give that man 5 gold stars and an extra 10 minutes at recess. He's done well.
I'm not convinced that the Billups-Iverson swap will push the Pistons through the Eastern conference playoffs. But with Rodney Stuckey and Amir Johnson waiting in the wings, the Pistons remain in the Eastern Conference mix. The Pistons have a new look, without losing too much of their core. They've created playing time to develop Stuckey and Johnson, and they've given themselves a real scoring punch. It's uncertain whether Iverson or Hamilton will come off the bench, but in either case the Pistons have created a more potent 8-man rotation.
But this is all misdirection. By exchanging Billups and Dice for Iverson (remember Rasheed Wallace's expiring contract), Joe Dumars has cleared a whopping 35 million from his cap. Even if Iverson and Wallace are resigned next summer on more modest, short-term deals, Dumars will have money on hand to extend his best young players and sign a quality free agent to the team.
This could be complicated if Richard Hamilton exercises his early termination option, but I doubt market conditions will improve enough to make Rip so brave.
If Iverson doesn't work out, Dumars has the option of letting AI and Sheed walk and investing in as many as two top-tier free agents.
Or Dumars could simply wait. Henry Abbott makes the strong case that Dumars could split his cap savings on a quality free agent in each of the next two summers. Dumars might be best served to forgo an immediate spending spree and instead go all in on the 2010 action, putting himself in the market for more than one of that summer's superstar talents.
This is a tremendous trade for Joe Dumars. He's wedged the Pistons championship window open for several more seasons. Be thankful, Piston fans. You've got a smart one at the helm.
The New Look Nuggets
The Nuggets finally land a true point guard in Chauncey Billups. Too bad for them that Chauncey Billups is not enough of a game-changer. For this team, Billups is just what the doctor ordered and the offense should be more cohesive with him in command. I suspect Carmelo Anthony will become more of an offensive threat and that J.R. Smith will continue to shoot without conscious, and that players such as Nene and Kleiza will improve alongside Billups.
On the defensive side of the ball, this move helps Denver against the Hornets, Lakers, Jazz, and Spurs. Billups is a much better defender than Iverson, and his physicality and smart play should be of great use in the playoffs.
Denver is bleeding money, and this move makes very little sense on that front. By taking on Billups' salary, the Nuggets are committing to a core of Billups, Smith, Anthony and Nene for the foreseeable future. It's possible that Denver could resign Kleiza and add his name to the aforementioned foursome, but it's far from certain. To resign Kleiza, Denver will have to straddle the cap line or be willing to pitch their tent therein. Kleiza is restricted, which gives Denver some protection against outlandish offers by other NBA teams, but they have no such protection against European franchises. If they want to keep Kleiza beyond this season, they'll have to pay him a salary that keeps him in America, not just the NBA.
Having said all this, Denver has not improved enough to overthrow the reigning hierarchy in the West. If they make the playoffs, they're still a 6, 7, or 8 seed. They will still play on the road to open the playoffs. They will still lose in the first round.
Subtraction by Addition
Against the Spurs, the Nuggets could be worse, not better this season. The loss of Iverson allows Gregg Popovich the luxury of tag-teaming Anthony with Bowen and Udoka, with no worries of Bowen expending gobs of energy chasing AI around the court. Parker can play Billups straight-up. Factor in the loss of Camby's weak-side defense and Denver will continue forward as a one and done.
Jerry Stackhouse Redux?
According to reports, Antonio McDyess will return to Detroit after receiving a buy-out from Denver. This sort of wink-wink agreement aroused the league's ire last season during version 1.0 of the Devin Harris-Jason Kidd trade. Back then, Jerry Stackhouse played the role of McDyess. The league stepped in, forcing the Nets and Mavs to reorganize their trade scenario.
"Mr. Dumars," mutters one office assistant, "David Stern is on the phone."
However, it remains to be seen whether these reports are accurate. One would think that Dumars would prefer to lose McDyess in order to create cap space, not to mention playing time for Amir Johnson and the newly extended Jason Maxiell. Antonio MyDyess is a good player, and would receive considerable attention from teams like the Spurs if he became a buy-out free agent. San Antonio would certainly think about waiving Desmon Farmer for a chance to shore-up their front court with a veteran like McDyess.
Update: The league approved the trade. So this is more like Brent Barry redux. If McDyess is bought out by the Nuggets, he may end up back in Detroit, but not until after talking with some other teams and sitting on his backside for several weeks. Just like Barry, the comforts of home and familiar faces in the locker room might trump the allure of playing for another contender. Again, if he is bought-out, expect the Spurs to put in a phone call to his agent.