To the bitter end, Iverson will also believe the best way for his team to win is to make him the offense’s focal point, and when that’s no longer the case, “it’s time for me to go.”
So here’s the irony: The No. 1 thing that pushed Iverson out of Denver was not his give-me-the-ball attitude or any of his off-court vices.
The 33-year-old superstar whose game was built on speed had lost a step. Team officials detected it early in training camp. A.I. had difficulty keeping pace with journeymen such as Mateen Cleaves. In a new Denver system dedicated to straight-up defense, this was a fatal flaw.
When the Nuggets lost their season-opener in Utah on Oct. 29, Kroenke and Bearup watched the game on television from the owner’s ranch deep in the woods of British Columbia. But they could clearly see what had to be done before the rest of the league realized Iverson had slipped.
The Nuggets needed to go find a legitimate starting point guard.
Within hours, the Pacers agreed to ship Tinsley, a draft pick and cash to Denver in return for veterans Chucky Atkins and Steven Hunter.
Rather than pull the trigger, however, the Nuggets instructed Warkentien to make a fresh call to Detroit, in hopes the possibility of a trade with Indiana might entice Dumars, long a fan of A.I.’s tenacity, to bite on an even bigger deal.
It seemed to be a long shot, a gamble based on a bluff.
Shortly after noon on Oct. 30, however, Warkentien informed his stunned co-workers: Detroit seemed anxious to say yes. Iverson for Billups.