Iverson's days in Philadelphia dwindling
STEVE WILSTEIN, AP Sports Columnist
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
(03-16) 00:29 PST (AP) --
Allen Iverson's reign of error is coming to a close in Philadelphia. He wants out and the 76ers no doubt will oblige him this summer to any team that can afford his salary and is willing to tolerate the baggage that now outweighs his points. The bidding is not likely to be fierce, even if the 76ers throw in five years' supply of aspirin for the next coach.
That's not to say there won't be several teams interested in Iverson and his 27 points per game career scoring average -- second among active players to Shaquille O'Neal's 27.2. Plenty of teams could use a scorer like that. The question is whether they want his attitude, his selfishness, his injuries and his $91.4 million salary over the next five years. For many teams, Iverson is not The Answer.
The other stumbling block in any trade is whether another team has the player or players Philadelphia will want in return, though at this point the 76ers are likely to settle for less simply to end a relationship that has gone sour.
The Sixers and Iverson know it's time to say goodbye, to give up on the pretense that they're all one big happy family. Iverson found a home in Philadelphia, built a mansion and had an adoring fan base. But all the reasons for staying are giving way to greater reasons for leaving.
The Sixers have gone as far as they can with him -- they reached the NBA Finals three years ago -- and they're on the down slope now as they drift out of playoff contention.
Iverson will turn 29 in June after eight seasons in the league, all in Philadelphia, but his lifestyle, size and high-impact game may age him prematurely. He's missed 22 games so far this season with various injuries and ailments.
He wore out Larry Brown, rode over Randy Ayers and now is butting heads with no-nonsense interim coach Chris Ford.
The latest clash came Sunday when Iverson, out for three straight games with a swollen right knee, refused to come off the bench after Ford told him he wouldn't start against the Detroit Pistons.
Iverson stripped off his tape, changed out of his uniform and watched from the bench in street clothes as his team got pummeled 85-69.
"I'm a starter. I've been a starter here for eight years. I'm not a sixth man," Iverson said, his ego bruised more than his knee.
Ford wasn't buying into Iverson's rant and wasn't about to let him get away with doing whatever he liked. In Ford's mind, if Iverson couldn't run full court in practice, he wasn't ready to start in a game.
"I was concerned that if he would go out there and try to play, we could now lose him for another five games down the road," Ford said. "I want to see him get out there and compete and go up and down in a scrimmage first. I'm looking out for the good of A.I., plus the good of the team. That's what my job is to do. Somebody's got to make decisions around here."
Ford and Iverson have had a rocky relationship since the coach replaced Ayers on Feb. 9. Ford has fined Iverson twice, first for missing a practice, then for missing a home game, both times because Iverson didn't personally call to explain his absence.
Call that bullheaded on Ford's part or call it brave. Ford's days with the Sixers may be numbered, too, but he deserves coach of the year consideration for standing up to Iverson.
Iverson kept his rant going Monday after practice in Memphis.
"My whole thing is ... why?" Iverson said. "When I'm the starter on this team, why wouldn't I start? A lot of people might look at it like it's a selfish thing or something like that. But I've played in the playoffs, and I've played in the [NBA] Finals. We've been a winning team for the last six years. It was never an issue about me not starting. Why wouldn't I start? I mean, I'm the franchise player here.
"I don't know any franchise players that come off the bench. I don't know any Olympian that comes off the bench. I don't know any all-star that comes off the bench. I don't know any former MVP that comes off the bench. I don't know any three-time scoring champion that comes off the bench. I don't know any first-team all-NBA [player] that comes off the bench. Why Allen Iverson?
"It's an insult to me ... who I am as a player, who I am to this organization, what I've been to this organization. This is an insult to me."
It was an insult that Iverson earned, and the simple answer to his questions is that the 76ers management is fed up with him pushing around coaches. Ford clearly would not be taking the actions he has without support from club president Billy King.
Whether Ford stays or someone else comes in, the end is near for Iverson in the city that's losing its brotherly love for him. By midday Monday, a poll by the Philadelphia Inquirer asking fans to vote on who was wrong here -- the Sixers, Iverson or both -- had 72 percent saying Iverson, 16 percent the Sixers and 12 percent both.
So where else might Iverson play next season?
At least three teams are possible contenders: Atlanta, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Atlanta has a shot, with tons of salary cap room after cleaning house. Under new ownership, the Hawks are desperate for a box office draw to fill thousands of empty seats.
If the wheels fall off the Lakers -- Kobe Bryant could leave as a free agent and so could several other players and coach Phil Jackson -- Iverson might find himself taking his act to Hollywood and teaming up with O'Neal.
Strangely, though, the best place for Iverson might just be the most unlikely: San Antonio.
The Spurs have salary cap room and might look to make a deal for Iverson if they don't win the championship again. They could even get him at an affordable price because they could take on his contract without having to trade back an equivalent amount of salary.
San Antonio is a city of straight arrows, from coach Gregg Popovich to superstar Tim Duncan. Yet, it is there, perhaps, that Iverson might be able to park his ego a bit, holster his shooting hand a little, and flourish with a chance to win a championship ring.
He and the Sixers know that won't happen in Philadelphia.
"My whole thing is ... why?" Iverson said.
When I'm the starter on this team, why wouldn't I start?
A lot of people might look at it like it's a selfish thing or something like that.
But I've played in the playoffs, and I've played in the NBA Finals.
We've been a winning team for the last six years. It was never an issue about me not starting. Why wouldn't I start?
I mean, I'm the franchise player here.
The talent on the team he led to the Finals was thin. Real thin.
N Player Ht Wt Ag DB Sea Draft
55 Dikembe Mutombo C 218 120 35 1966 10 4-91
40 Tyrone Hill PF 206 113 33 1968 11 11-90
9 George Lynch SF 203 103 31 1970 8 12-93
3 Allen Iverson SG 183 75 26 1975 5 1-96
20 Eric Snow PG 191 92 28 1973 6 43-95
52 Matt Geiger C 216 112 32 1969 9 42-92
50 Todd MacCulloch C 213 116 25 1976 2 47-99
33 Jumaine Jones SF 203 99 22 1979 2 27-99
8 Aaron McKie SG 196 95 29 1972 7 17-94
5 Kevin Ollie PG 188 88 29 1972 4 -
7 Roshown McLeod SF 203 104 26 1975 3 20-98
23 Rodney Buford SG - SF 196 86 24 1977 2 53-99
11 Raja Bell SG 196 92 25 1976 1 -
24 Pepe Sanchez PG 193 88 24 1977 1 -
12 Speedy Claxton PG 180 75 23 1978 0 20-00
He was a great time in this franchise. There are negatives about The Answer that coloured my opinion, but his talent and drive are incomparable. He came to play every night. Very few ever did. Playing amongst the giants he instilled fear in their hearts. It was remarkable to watch.