Ringleader of the Tormentors

There is no way even the most prescient of fortune tellers, looking into their most reliable crystal balls, would have forsaw at the starting of the season the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals. The Nuggets were a ruddlerless group of outcasts and misfits. The front office gave the word “inept” a bad name. Case in point – after coach George Karl decided the team would have to be better defensively heading into this season, the team shipped off defensive stud Marcus Camby in a salary dump.

Then Allen Iverson came to the rescue. Except, it wasn’t on the court. As exciting a player as Iverson is, he hasn’t been real great at helping teams win many games (YES, I know he got Philly to a Finals, but winning the Eastern Conference is like winning an Emmy to the Western Conference’s Oscar). No, Iverson’s biggest contribution to the Nuggets was the day he left town and Chauncey Billups rode in to save the day.

What the Nuggets were lacking all along was a ringleader for their group of misfits. And make no mistake about it, the Nuggets are misfits. A former junkie who spikes his hair and thinks he’s a bird (man) every game. A center with one name, coming off knee and cancer surgery. A heavily tatted guard coming off the bench whose next ink job should say “mercurial”. An underappreciated and underperforming superstar. A power forward with the League’s largest “swagger to actual skills” differential. Billups is what this team was missing. While Iverson was just another misfit, Billups is their ringmaster. The one who can bring all the misfits together and make them one.
Now the team actually plays defense, even without Camby. Now Melo doesn’t have to worry about being a leader and can just punish opponents with his unorthodox game. Now J.R. Smith can just come off the bench and bomb. Now George Karl can look like a good coach.

What is forgotten in all this is that Billups is a misfit himself. After going third overall in the draft, he played on four different teams within his first four years in the League. He really didn’t establish himself until his sixth season in the L, and his fifth team, Detroit. Then he goes and wins a Finals MVP, even before he becomes an All-Star? Things like this don’t happen. Draft lottery busts don’t go on to become MVPs and All-Stars and potential Hall-of-Famers after burning through five teams.

While Denver is sure to be underdogs the rest of the way through the playoffs, the way they’re playing they very well could win it all. Its all due to the fact that they got their math correct finally: Billups > Iverson.