Allen Iverson: Philadelphia 76ers welcome home The Answer.

December 4, 2009

by Jack Maidment

Allen Iverson may well have hung up his sneakers last week, but news that the Philadelphia 76ers have approached and signed the supposedly retired guard seem to suggest that the Hall of Fame bound guard never truly intended to ride off into the sunset just yet.

Their can be little doubt that The Answer has at least something left in his diminutive frame to contribute to, if not necessarily lead, an NBA franchise, and perhaps there in lies the problem so evident in his stints in Detroit and Memphis: AI’s evaluation of his own abilities are clearly not on the same page as GMs around the League.

At 34, the Philly legend is certainly not done. If other players around the League can be relied on as any kind of indicators of age restrictions, Steve Nash, for example, who, regardless of his 36 years, has outplayed all before him to cement his position as one of the NBA’s elite point guards for at least another year, seems to suggest AI cab ball a while yet.

The problem, it would seem, is one of ego. Iverson still sees himself as franchise material and anything less than starting minutes and first option shots would appear to be so incomprehensible to the one time League MVP as to warrant him to walk away in mystified disgust a la Ron Burgundy:

“Do you know who i am? I’m kind of a big deal…”

And so the questions which awaited him in Detroit and Memphis will welcome him back to the city and the team that he could once call his own.

For the 76ers, the decision to bring back Iverson can easily be derided as financially motivated, designed to entice more people to go watch a team struggling on the court. Indeed, his arrival will probably be worth a few thousand ticket sales.

However, scepticism aside, the acquisition of Iverson in terms of aiding the team can only be viewed as low risk, high reward.

Recent problems assure that the Sixers will pay the equivalent of a bag of skittles for his services and there is of course the possibility that this situation might actually work out for all those involved. Hell, if it can’t work in Philadelphia, it’s not going to work anywhere.

Last chance saloon? Undoubtedly. But there is cause for optimism:

With no point guard, the minutes are available for AI and with Andre Igoudala and Elton Brand the only players even resembling offensive first options, AI should be able to hoist enough shots every game to get his, while not treading on anyone’s toes.

Eddie Jordan has said that Iverson starting is very much in his “thought process”. Unlike at the Pistons where there was an evident jam of personnel in the back court, and at the Grizzlies where youth development was always going to be a stumbling block for the veteran, the Sixers actually want him. More than that, they actually want him for who he is: a greedy scorer.

The Nuggets, Pistons and Grizzlies all traded for Iverson in the naïve belief that a player who had dominated his team since entering the League could suddenly become a selfless rotation player. That’s not hoping for a mild adaptation; that’s praying for the ultimate character switcheroo.

Philadelphia knows exactly what they are getting. They dealt with Mr Practice? For 10 years. Their knowledge of the man could well be the key to unlocking the player.

He could re-ignite a flailing team’s season or he might just score points for a team destined for mediocrity. Or he might last a week and leave, the Sixers having lost nothing.

Maybe, just maybe, this could work, giving one of the game’s best ever players the final curtain that his career deserves.


Allen Iverson Retires. Headed to the Hall.

November 26, 2009

by Jack Maidment

Allen Iverson, undoubtedly one of the greatest NBA players of all time, has announced his plans to retire at the age of 34.

After agreeing terms with the Memphis Grizzlies in what appeared to be a bad fit, the high scoring guard only stayed in Grace-land long enough to suit up, come off the bench and decide that, um, thanks, but no thanks.

What appeared a bad fit from the start, Iverson simply proved the scores of critics correct by walking away from a team which wasn’t prepared to sacrifice the growth of its’ young core for the sake of an ageing superstar’s ego.

The fact that Memphis were the only team League wide to vaguely appear serious in their pursuit of the free agent should have proven a fairly dramatic wake up call for the 4 time NBA leading scorer and 2001 MVP recipient whose stock has plummeted in recent years.

The #1 pick in the 1996 Draft, Iverson’s first 10 years in the NBA showed the world a new type of basketball player, a new way to play.

Listed at a generous 6ft Iverson dominated the game in a way that was previously unthinkable for someone of such a relatively diminutive stature. His small stature allowed fans to directly relate to him; it was easier to root for a guy whose head isn’t a foot above yours.

The gaudy numbers, the cross-over, the tattoos, the outspoken nature, Iverson irrevocably changed the NBA. The influence that his infectious personality has had on the League cannot be underestimated.

Whether it be dragging his Philadelphia team to the Finals or almost breaking the ankles of one Mr Jordan, Iverson’s early career was the perfect mix of talent, stats and controversy. Un-typically outspoken for a pro athlete, Iverson guaranteed one thing: it was never going to be dull.

Despite his out spoken nature and his predisposition for difficulty, “practice?” need we say more, every GM in the League would have given their left arm to acquire The Answer at the end of the 2001 season.

So what went wrong? How have we ended up in this mess, with no team willing to take on a player guaranteed of his place in the Hall of Fame? A player who clearly has a lot to give?

The answer is apparent.

Firstly, and quite simply, Iverson’s ego is gigantic. That is not to say he was arrogant, rather he displayed the confidence in his abilities that was necessary for a small guy to continually get punished by bigger men and keep coming back for more: if he didn’t believe in himself, who would?

While playing top dog at the 76ers all was well. His numbers justified his lofty mindset. But upon his trade to the Nuggets and subsequently the Pistons, Iverson was unable to comprehend his status as anything other than ‘The Man’.

He had never been asked to be ‘The Other Guy’, the role player, the supporting act.

He could stand in front of the media day after day and reassert his dedication to the cause and his willingness to do what the coach says for the good of the team, but the reality of the situation couldn’t have been more different.

Regardless of what people think of his conduct, or his apparent ‘lack of professionalism’ in not putting his team first, Iverson is unable to play from the bench.

That is a fact and it isn’t changing. Ever.

If he is unable to play from the bench and if he is unable to lead a team on his own any more, which regardless of what Iverson says, he can’t, he can no longer play in the NBA.

At 34, Iverson is in all likelihood not done. There will be an owner just crazy enough, or in need of a boost in revenue, who will take him on.

If his retirement is permanent and he has suited up for the last time, let us not remember the grouchy Piston or the quick-as-a-flash Grizzlie. Let us remember AI the 76er. The man who showed no fear and could score points like no other.

The man who is going to the Hall.

NBA Playoffs Conference Semi Finals: Dallas Must Fear Denver’s Fire Power

May 2, 2009


Denver. Dallas.

Not many people would have predicted that Semi Final match up at the start of the season. 

Dallas was steadily fading away, unable to blend the mercurial talent of Jason Kidd into their system. Unable to gag their owner. Unable to find their bench. 

Denver was doing their best impression of the Incredible Hulk. At any time they were as likely to go crazy and score 200 points as they were to crumble and fall to League worst teams. 

Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony were happily pouring in the points safe in the knowledge that as a franchise they were treading water. They did not have the discipline or commitment to team defense to propel them to Post Season success. 

However, it is amazing what a few trades and a little bit of time can do. 

Turns out that all the Mavericks needed was a season to gel and start firing. Kidd started looking like the player that he was when he led New Jersey deep into the Playoffs and the Dallas bench began to up its production largely due to Jason Terry’s move to Sixth Man. 

Denver did what all teams in the hunt for a Championship do and traded away their best defensive player for a bag of skittles and bottle of Coke. Wait. What? 

Marcus Camby departed for the Wonderland of the Los Angeles Clippers while the Nuggets welcomed back their Brazilian Beast Nene who had missed the previous season through illness. 

One trade was not enough, so Denver pulled the itchy trigger again, shipping the League’s once best and still prolific scorer Allen Iverson to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Chauncey Mr Big Shot Billups. 

Billups has brought veteran leadership and a defensive mentality to a team that desperately needed a father figure. Thanks to Billups, the Nuggets learnt the power of defense. 

Suddenly the starting line up looked like it could be something special, perfectly complimented by a freakishly athletic bench led by JR Smith and Chris Anderson.

And so, here we are, Denver meet Dallas for the chance to play in the Conference Finals. 

Who is more worried by the series? Dallas. Unquestionably. They know full well how dangerous the Nuggets are having not taken a game from them all season, losing all four games. 

The run and gun fun may have been tamed, but the fire power remains. No playoff calibre team can hang with Denver when they turn on the coring tap, aside from the Lakers. 

For the Mavericks, it depends on what Chauncey Billups turns up to play. In the first round he shot 65.5% from three point land. If he does that again Dallas may as well stay in Texas and get the BBQ on. Just about un-guardable. 

However, Dallas does have a chance. They just have to take their chance and avoid a slow start against a hungry Denver that will be punished.

If the Mavericks can shoot the lights out in the series and JJ Barea can stay effective and Josh Howard’s ankle holds and Dirk comes up big then Mark Cuban’s boys will be in the mix. Not much to do then. 

The smart money would certainly be on the Denver Nuggets who are too smart and too athletic to not capitalise on the opposition’s weaknesses. Billups will look to post up Barea and the consequences do not bare thinking about. 

For the simple fact that Denver has more difference makers than Dallas, the Nuggets will win this series. 

The Bird Man’s blocks, Nene and K-Mart’s presence inside, Chauncey’s defense and 3 ball, Melo’s scoring and JR Smith’s wild card ability to embarrass opponents should easily out match the Mavericks.

See you in the Conference Finals Denver.

NBA Playoffs: No Time For Fishing

May 2, 2009
$100 Million?
$100 Million?

6 are gone.

 The Utah Jazz, New Orleans Hornets, Portland Trailblazers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs have all gone fishing, time on their hands.

 Utah has vowed to improve defensively after falling to the Lakers. Again. The fact that Carlos Boozer is seeking out a $100 million deal probably puts team defense fairly low on team priorities.

 The Jazz need to re-sign Mehmet Okur and Paul Milsap, so the possibility of matching a big time deal for the Booze must be scaring the GM up in Salt Lake something fierce.

 The current economic climate and the allure of the free agent market for the next two years makes it difficult to justify such a blockbuster contract for a player who is unlikely to put you over the hump to the Finals.

 Utah are not the only team with decisions to make. If much of the media is to be believed then San Antonio are either officially at the end of their title contender status or very, very close.

 You can’t beat age. You can deceive it for a while, but it will catch you eventually. Charles Barkley rubbished the idea that an early rest will give Tim Duncan the time he needs to repair, and rightly so.

 If their big three can get (relatively) healthy then they have a shot next year. As long as they bring in some, whisper it, youth.

 The Hornets, despite their destruction by a VERY good Denver Nuggets team, cannot be too worried about their immediate future as long as they have Chris Paul and the rest of their guys get healthy.

 The only team with little to worry about are the Portland Trailblazers. Brandon Roy being hailed as the best player that Ron Artest has played against must fill Oregon with confidence that their team has a player who can lead their team to the Promised Land.

 They are pretty much the antithesis of the Spurs. Old versus young. The likes of Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum and Greg Oden (!) are all going to get A LOT better really fast. The Blazers’ future looks pretty enviable.

 Philadelphia are in much the same position as the Jazz with one of their main guys looking around for a new, and big, contract. The loss of Andre Miller to the Sixers would be a huge loss for a team who are light on leadership.

 However, no team that has just exited the Playoffs has more to think about than the once great Detroit Pistons.

 Allen Iverson’s contract is off the books leaving the Pistons with some maneuvering room. The question is when does Joe Dumars decide to pull the trigger: he could go after Boozer or whoever else this summer or he could tread water for a year and wait to make an assault on the fabled free agent class of 2010.

 The one major plus for the Pistons is that players do want to play in Detroit. It’s not like the Memphis Grizzlies who could offer LeBron and co all the money in the world yet would still receive a big fat no in reply.

 Detroit must also decide whether or not to re-sign Mr Technical Rasheed Wallace. As brilliant as he is combustible, and expensive to boot.

 Wholesale changes could be the order of the day in Mo-Town as the team is broken down and rebuilt: will Tayshaun or Rip still be there next year? Or will they be traded for the All Star that the Pistons crave?

 The exit from the Playoffs means that these teams have lots of time on their hands to think.

 The four teams that have game 7s to look forward to will be praying that they are able to put off the inevitable change process by proceeding to the Conference Semi Finals.