Wednesday, December 2, 2009

For the Sixers, One A.I. was Enough

NBA Basketballgrizzlies@lakers

It's now official. The Sixers have reached an agreement with the semi-retired Allen Iverson to return to the team. And, with poetic drama, Iverson will make his Sixers re-debut on Monday night against the Denver Nuggets- the team to which he was unloaded a few years ago. Real life will become stranger than fiction when Iverson takes the floor in a game played by two teams that recently decided that they would do better without the 10-time NBA All-Star.

The confluence of events that led to bringing back the one-time Philadelphia fan favorite who eventually wore out his welcome have unfolded over the first few weeks of the season. First, the Sixers under new coach Eddie Jordan have gotten off to a miserable start, dropping to 5-13 with their current 7-game losing streak. So far this season, the team is next to last in attendance, averaging less than 12,000 per game or 59% of capacity. Then, Iverson announced his plan to retire at about the same time that the Sixers were announcing that point guard Lou Williams had suffered a broken jaw that would sideline him for 8 weeks.

It is understandable how the Sixers brass would put this puzzle together. Iverson plays the same shooting point guard position as Williams, he is available at a fire sale price with few if any suitors, the team's back-up is 19 year old rookie Jrue Holiday and he has been a fan attraction throughout his career. That being said, the move is also a great contradiction of organizational philosophy and direction.

Overall, re-signing "The Answer" is clearly not the answer for the 2009-2010 Sixers. It is a bad move on so many fronts and smacks of desperation. This is not to begrudge Iverson's ability to play someplace in the NBA if a team would want him. He brought a lot of excitement to the Philadelphia faithful through his tenure here, but this piece that appears to Sixers management as a fit, is just the opposite.

The very fact that the team drafted such a young player over more developed and accomplished options at that position signals that the team was clearly looking to build a young team that could grow over time. The very fact that Iverson planned to retire as no other team expressed interest in him traces to the well earned perception that he could not adjust his personal approach to fit into a team concept and was not a positive influence. And, the original "A.I." might be one of the last players you would pick to help make the "Princeton Offense" successful.

Perhaps this signing is simply Ed Stefanski's or Ed Snider's way of forcing coach Eddie Jordan to scrap his Ivy League offense? The deal reportedly has a 60 day window before it becomes guaranteed, so perhaps this a temporary plug and the Sixers plan to jettison him when Williams returns? Perhaps it was a marriage of convenience whereby Iverson could fill in while Williams is absent and then he can officially retire as a "Sixer."

Otherwise, as much as the puzzle fits together when you look at the individual pieces, it is hard to imagine what the team is thinking when they step back and look at the big picture? Like all teams graced by Iverson, but especially when Williams returns, there will not be enough basketballs to go around. He surely is not going to embrace an offense that is predicated on passing and moving the ball around.

Adding the original A.I. is counter productive to the team's desire to have the new A.I. further mature into a role as its team leader or have high priced free agent signing Elton Brand emerge as a leader. He surely does not provide a positive influence on a young team and particularly with two other inexperienced guards such as the injured starter or a very impressionable rookie playing the same position. In fact, he would seem to provide the exact opposite influence than what the team would want for their two young ball handlers.

Also, when Williams returns, there will surely not be enough minutes to go around. Iverson clearly is incapable of adjusting his mindset or role as evidenced most recently by his short tenure in Memphis. After few teams expressed interest in the offseason, the Grizzlies finally took the chance with him, yet Iverson remained steadfast to the point of being out of options. Putting "The Answer" on the floor at the expense of Williams' or Holiday's development would be a large mistake for a team that clearly has no shot at contending this season in a league with a handful of stacked teams.

Lastly, sometimes it makes sense to bite the bullet and let a young team struggle even if it means racking up losses. The NBA has long been a "star system" league that almost necessitates a superstar to compete for the title. A poor record and finishing out of the playoffs could translate into a high draft pick and a potential marquee player. Iverson might help to prop up the team's record this season, but ultimately hurt the team's ability to add talent in the future.

The Ed's have spoken. The deal is done- Iverson is on the way. From this perspective, though, one A.I. was enough.