Had Detroit Pistons got Allen Iverson in 2000, do they win NBA title?

After Joe Dumars was promoted to president of basketball operations on June 6, 2000, he began assembling the Detroit Pistons team that would win a championship four years later.
The first major move in that effort was his trade of Grant Hill to Orlando for Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins that August. Around the same time, Dumars nearly pulled off a blockbuster trade that would have altered the next decade for not just the Pistons, but the entire NBA.
The trade nearly brought one of the most maligned Pistons in franchise history to Detroit nearly a decade earlier, in the middle of the prime of his Hall of Fame career.
Matt Geiger, a veteran center at the time, single handedly prevented the trade from happening.
The deal was centered around superstar guard Allen Iverson, whose difficult relationship with then-Sixers head coach Larry Brown was deemed unsalvageable. Philadelphia began shopping Iverson. Soon, they had a deal in place that would’ve sent him to the Pistons — eight years before the ill-fated Iverson-Chauncey BIllups trade in 2008.
One version of the deal, according to ESPN, would’ve sent Iverson and Geiger to Detroit; Eddie Jones, Glen Rice, Jerome Williams and Dale Ellis to Philadelphia; Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and Travis Knight to Charlotte and Anthony Mason, Toni Kukoc and Todd Fuller to the Lakers.
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The trade came down to Geiger, who was two years into a six-year, $47 million contact, waiving his $1.2 million trade kicker.
Geiger declined to waive his trade kicker, effectively killing the trade.
Why?
“I looked at Detroit and didn’t think Allen and I would’ve been better off there,” Geiger said at the time. “So the decision was easy.”
It’s possible, even likely, that both franchises are better for Geiger’s decision. Iverson went on to have an MVP season and led Philadelphia to the 2001 NBA Finals. The Pistons kept Stackhouse and Williams, both of whom would later be traded for two key pieces of Detroit’s 2004 championship — Richard Hamilton and Corliss Williamson.
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Yet, an argument can also be made that acquiring Iverson at the peak of his powers would’ve jump-started Detroit’s path to a championship. And it almost certainly would have prevented the Goin’ To Work era from happening.
It’s impossible to weigh the full impact of Geiger’s decision and predict what would’ve happened had Iverson ended up in Detroit. But in broad strokes, we can look at how it would’ve changed some of the decisions Dumars made in the years after.
The Hill trade was a necessary move. Hill, an unrestricted free agent, intended to sign with the Orlando Magic. Dumars managed to turn it into a sign-and-trade so that the Pistons would receive some compensation, and inked Hill to a seven-year, $92.8 million contract before sending him to the Magic.
Initially seen as a one-sided trade in favor of Orlando, the odds soon shifted in Detroit’s favor. Wallace established himself as one of the best defensive centers in the NBA. Injuries limited Hill to just 47 games during his first four seasons in Orlando, and he missed the entire 2003-04 season.
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Wallace was the backbone of the 2004 NBA title team — a team that Dumars constructed with a piecemeal approach. Had Dumars gotten his wish and acquired Iverson during the same summer he traded Hill, it’s hard to see that same championship core coming together.
In 2002, Dumars drafted Tayshaun Prince and signed Billups in free agency. Later that offseason, he traded Stackhouse to the Wizards in a package that brought back Hamilton. That core joined Wallace to win 50 games during the 2002-03 season. Rasheed Wallace was acquired at the 2004 trade deadline as the final piece needed to win a championship.
If Stackhouse were included in the Iverson deal, it would have made acquiring Hamilton that much harder. If Iverson were a Piston, it’s hard to see Billups signing with the Pistons.
But the Pistons still would’ve had a path to contention. The 2001-02 Pistons, led by Stackhouse and Wallace, won 50 games. Stackhouse was their primary scorer, averaging 21.4 points, 5.3 assists and 4.1 rebounds. That team advanced to the second round of the playoffs, becoming the first Pistons team to do so since 1991.
Replace Stackhouse with Iverson, who led the league with a 31.4 points per game average, and it’s easy to envision an even better Pistons as a bigger threat in the Eastern Conference in 2002.
The 1999-2000 season was an important one for Iverson. He averaged a then-career high 28.4 points per game and made his first All-Star appearance. But he had a difficult relationship with Larry Brown, the Sixers head coach who would eventually step down in 2003 and join the Pistons.
So the Sixers threatened to trade Iverson, who was just entering his prime. And they almost followed through with it.
“I did not want to trade Allen Iverson, but I could no longer defend him because he was breaking Larry’s rules,” Sixers president Pat Croce said at the time. “Allen just told me he didn’t want to go. He wanted to be a professional.”
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Geiger’s decision to nix the trade ended up working out nicely for Philadelphia, even if Brown and Iverson would eventually depart from the franchise. Toni Kukoc, initially slated to be traded to the Lakers in the Iverson-to-Detroit trade, was eventually included in a package that helped the Sixers acquire Dikembe Mutombo at the 2001 trade deadline.
Mutombo won the 2001 Defensive Player of the Year award, and Iverson earned league MVP honors in a landslide that same year. The Sixers won 56 games and made the NBA Finals, losing to the Lakers in five games.
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Would Iverson have won MVP with the Pistons that year? Probably not. The Pistons, led by Stackhouse, won just 33 games that season. It’s unlikely Iverson would’ve swung the pendulum so far in the opposite direction that he would’ve been in the MVP discussion. But the 2001-02 season could’ve given him a chance at what he ended up getting in Philadelphia a season prior.
The Pistons drafted Mehmet Okur and traded for Clifford Robinson in 2001. It’s hard to say if these things would’ve happened with Iverson. And Williamson, the Sixth Man of the Year with the Pistons in 2002, likely isn’t on the roster, either.
An Iverson/Wallace-led Pistons team would’ve been very good. Iverson’s 2001-02 season was nearly as good as his MVP season. Wallace won Defensive Player of the Year in 2002. That one-two punch would’ve been similar to the Iverson-Mutombo core that led the Sixers to the Finals in 2001.
As mentioned earlier, the 2002 offseason would’ve gone entirely different for Detroit. It seems certain that Billups and Hamilton would not have become Pistons. And if Iverson would’ve led the Pistons to more than 50 wins, maybe they aren’t in position to draft Prince that summer.
Is that too big a pill to swallow for Pistons fans today? Perhaps. Detroit did, after all, win a championship without Iverson. The 2004 Pistons are one of the most beloved teams in Detroit sports history. Iverson would’ve brought excitement, but no guarantees.
It’s a fun “what-if,” though.