Can the Sixers really trade Iverson?
By Chad Ford
Tuesday, March 16
There's a history to the Sixers love-hate relationship with Iverson. His recent bout with coach Chris Ford has raised speculation yet again that Iverson's days in Philly are numbered. Will the Sixers finally trade Iverson this summer?
If they do, it won't be the first time the team has tried to trade him. If they don't, it won't be the last. In the past, every time the Sixers have flirted with moving Iverson, history has intervened.
History tells us you never trade a superstar (Philly fans are still reeling from the trade that shipped Charles Barkley out of town). History also says it's almost impossible to get equal value in return when dumping a star. History scares the hell of GMs who know that a fan revolt is the last thing a struggling team needs.
History has bought Allen Iverson more time than he deserves. Has Iverson finally ran out of time?
The mercurial superstar wore out his welcome in Philly four years ago. Back in 2000, Billy Knight and Larry Brown, both sick of Iverson and his antics, had the opportunity to trade Iverson to the Pistons and almost did in a convoluted trade that would have left Philly with Jerry Stackhouse, Glen Rice and Jerome Williams. The deal fell apart when Matt Geiger, who was also included in the deal, refused to waive a trade kicker that was needed to make the numbers work under the CBA.
With the trade in shambles, Brown decided to give Iverson one more chance. It was a wake-up call for AI. Iverson went on to lead the 76ers to the NBA Finals that year. He was on his best behavior. He played like a leader and produced the most impressive season of his career.
All was forgiven. Sort of.
By most accounts Iverson became incorrigible after he led the Sixers to the Finals. The missed practices became more frequent. The tardiness and flouting of team rules were more conspicuous. Brown thought Iverson would learn from his success and realize hard work turns into championships. Iverson saw the Sixers' run as validation that his lifestyle didn't interfere with the basketball team.
Three years after the run, Brown is gone, and so is most of the supporting cast that helped Iverson get to the Finals. The team has grown weary of his antics. Ford has put his foot down several times, and Iverson has rebelled on each occasion.
Is the coach the problem? The Sixers could dump Ford this summer and try to convince the Blazers to let Mo Cheeks come home (remember, last summer the team refused to let Philly talk to him). Cheeks has a great relationship with Iverson, but what would it really accomplish? If Randy Ayers, who let Iverson do whatever he wanted, couldn't get along, how can Cheeks, who's had his own problems in Portland, be that much of an improvement?
It's always easier to fire the coach than to dump a player. But how many coaches are you willing to go through before realizing the coach is no longer the issue?
Are his teammates the issue? Several commentators over the past few months have concluded that the Sixers' woes are more about Iverson's aging supporting cast than they are about Iverson.
Nonsense. Players like Aaron McKie and Derrick Coleman are overpaid and over the hill. Glenn Robinson is both, and he's a team cancer to boot (his plus/minus stats are the worst on the team). But the Sixers have their fair share of young talent. Samuel Dalembert looks like the real deal at center. Kenny Thomas is wiping the glass clean at the four. John Salmons and Kyle Korver both look like they have promising futures.
Can the Sixers trade Iverson?
The Sixers core isn't too old or that bad. They are just uninspired. A couple of nice team players for Iverson -- perhaps a solid two and a three -- and the Sixers would be back in business ... well, sort of.
Everyone knows the reason Philly hasn't already sent Iverson packing is their fear fans will flee the arena. This year they have the fourth-best home attendance in the league, despite their awful record, and are the third-best road draw (behind only the Lakers and Cavs). Iverson is one of the best three draws in the NBA and has been for years.
Unless they replace Iverson with Shaq or LeBron, interest is going to wane.
The other big issue is that the Sixers can't seem to get close to equal value in return for Iverson. You think the Stackhouse, Rice and Williams wasn't fair market value for a 24-year-old Iverson? What do you think a 28-year-old Iverson with a massive six-year extension that pays him $22 million in 2008-09 (when Iverson is 34) does to his trade value?
King learned first-hand when he explored moving Iverson before this season's trade deadline. GMs were wary about offering anything of value in return for Iverson because of his history of difficulty, his massive contract and the other dirty little secret the Sixers have yet to come to grips with -- Iverson's body is breaking down. AI's game is played above the rim, attacking the paint and throwing his body in every direction. In the NBA, that style of play takes it's toll, especially on a 170-pound body.
Iverson has missed a career high 22 games this season, and most GMs believe the number is only going to grow. As the injuries mount, Iverson inevitably will lose his quickness -- the one thing that sets him apart from almost everyone in the league. Without it, what is he? A below-average-shooting, turnover-prone, tiny two guard. No one wants to pay $22 million for that.
That's why King has been so adamant about denying the plethora of Iverson trade rumors out there. He doesn't want expectations spiraling out of control. If the Sixers do trade Iverson, it will be a disaster ... on paper.
Where could Iverson land?
Insider has been talking to GMs about the issue for months, and most concede they don't have the resources -- or guts -- to give up a couple of good players to get Iverson. GMs lose their jobs over guys like Iverson, and given the caustic nature of the league right now, there are only a handful of GMs in the country who have the job security and assets to make an Iverson trade happen.
Who are they?
Start with Jerry West in Memphis. West has built an amazing team that is missing one key ingredient -- a superstar. West also has a coach, Hubie Brown, who has the power to keep Iverson in check. The Grizzlies have a ton of assets and could afford to lop off a few in order to add Iverson to the mix. With West itching to make a serious run at the NBA title ... could Iverson be the answer?
Would a combo of Bonzi Wells and either the emerging James Posey or Stromile Swift (via sign-and-trade) be enough for the Sixers? Both players have reasonable contracts and could, along with the Sixers' young core, turn Philly back into a respectable team. West isn't giving up Pau Gasol, but Wells and either Swift or Posey could be considered acceptable losses.
The Pistons' Joe Dumars also has the power and resources to bring Iverson in. The issue there is Brown. Brown fled Philly, in part, because he'd grown tired of fighting with Iverson. If Brown could stomach Iverson's return, would the Sixers be able to live with a combo of Richard Hamilton and Corliss Williamson?
Denver's Kiki Vandeweghe is another GM with the clout. The team will have a ton of cash this summer, which means they could absorb some or all of Iverson's contract without having to send back so much cash. However a combo of Rodney White, Nikoloz Tskitishvili and the Nuggets' first-round pick won't get it done. It's doubtful that Denver would be willing to offer any of their core -- Carmelo, Nene or Andre Miller.
Dallas also could be a player. They really loved the energy Nick Van Exel brought to the backcourt and wouldn't balk at Iverson's huge contract. Would a straight-up swap for either Michael Finley or Antawn Jamison work?
The rest of the teams interested in Iverson probably would be making the deal out of desperation. Looking for something, anything, to boost the gate, would these teams be willing to make an offer?
The Warriors have been desperately looking for a gate draw. Would they be willing to part with Erick Dampier and Jason Richardson?
The Bulls are looking for a spark anywhere, but would they be willing to give up Eddy Curry to get it done? A Jamal Crawford, Curry and Eddie Robinson deal might make sense for Philly. But would it really work for the Terri-Bulls?
The Clippers are going to be in the Kobe Bryant hunt, but should they strike out, would a combo of Quentin Richardson (sign-and-trade), Chris Wilcox and their first rounder work for Philly? They'll be far enough under the cap to absorb the difference.
And what about the Magic? They may be the only team in the league, out of desperation, that would offer a star in return for Iverson. If they become convinced Tracy McGrady is likely to bolt Orlando anyway, would the Magic swap T-Mac for Iverson? They'd be crazy to do it ... but with sagging attendance and very few options, who knows what will cross new GM John Weisbrod's mind. Remember, he's a hockey guy.
Assuming the Sixers can't pry T-Mac out of Orlando, each of these scenarios arguably gives the Sixers back something less than Iverson in return. At this point, their options won't get any rosier ... so why hesitate? If they aren't willing to cut their losses, it's only a matter of time before history catches up with the team and time runs out for King, Ford and Sixers fans. Is anyone in Philly ready to take that risk?