Split decision overdue

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 13, 2006

Allen Iverson’s name is off his locker, and soon his jersey will be on the discount table at most sporting goods stores in Philadelphia. It doesn’t take long to say goodbye in sports these days, even for the face of a franchise.

Freddy Adu found that out Monday when D.C. United exiled him to Salt Lake City before the supposed savior of American soccer was even old enough to legally vote. Like Iverson, Adu seemed to have problems getting along with authority figures, especially his coaches.

Since not many people in the United States seem to care much about soccer, especially professional soccer, we’ll leave the debate about the wisdom of putting the precocious Adu on center stage at such a young age to another time.

A lot do care about the NBA, though, where Iverson has plied his trade in often spectacular fashion for the 76ers over the last decade. He’s now available to the highest bidder, and the executives who run the franchise will soon face some tough questions from Philadelphia basketball fans.

Here’s one to start: What took you so long?

Divorces are never easy, but the Sixers could have made it a lot easier on themselves – and received a lot more value out of a trade – if they had stood up to Iverson during the off-season and shipped him somewhere where he could score 30 points a game in peace.

Instead, they waited 17 games into a season gone bad to finally move to sever ties with the petulant guard who could be as infuriating off the court as he was dazzling on it.

Did it take a crummy bowling outing to figure out that Iverson was a disruptive force on this team? The fact the Sixers have gone through five coaches in the past four years wasn’t enough of a clue?

Jerry Colangelo seemed to get it when he turned down Iverson’s personal appeal earlier this year to be on the U.S. team that will play in the 2008 Olympics. The USA Basketball director didn’t even offer Iverson a chance to try out for the team at training camp, even though he was the co-captain and leading scorer of the 2004 Olympic team.

Colangelo cited Iverson’s age – he’ll be 33 at the time of the Beijing Games – and the fact that the team had enough scorers and was looking for role players. Left unsaid was the obvious – that Iverson was a big reason the 2004 team never played like a team.

Indeed, that’s been the knock on Iverson throughout his career. He might be the best inch-for-inch player around – to borrow a boxing analogy – but he’s never been known as someone who makes the players around him better.

Iverson did lead the Sixers to the NBA finals in 2001, but his one-man act has since played out on the NBA stage. Teams don’t mind giving Iverson his points every night, because they’re not so worried anymore that he will take over a game and win it by himself as he used to do when he was younger.

That became a big problem for Philadelphia because Iverson didn’t take it upon himself to help those around him. That’s particularly true with young players such as Andre Iguodala, but Iverson had a long list of sidekicks he never worked well with like Glenn Robinson, Jerry Stackhouse, Tim Thomas, and Keith Van Horn.

Chris Webber was supposed to be the latest answer for The Answer, and he and Iverson combined to be the highest-scoring 1-2 teammates last year. But that was a hollow stat for a team that couldn’t even win half its games and didn’t make the playoffs.

Iverson was nowhere to be seen Monday night when the Sixers lost their eighth in a row, this time on a last-second basket by Portland. His locker was cleaned out, the nameplate was removed, and all images of No. 3 were stricken from the pregame lineup video.

Upstairs in a luxury suite, Sixers chairman Ed Snider and team president Billy King were discussing possible trades.

“I just know you’re not going to get equal value for a little monster that good,” Webber said.

No, Philadelphia won’t. Just like the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t get equal value when they traded Shaquille O’Neal to Miami when the infighting with Kobe Bryant finally became too much.

For the Sixers, though, it doesn’t really matter. They weren’t going anywhere with Iverson, anyway.

Besides, the team was running out of coaches to fire.

The divorce may be messy. Divorces often are, especially when the two parties have been together for what seems like forever.

In this case, though, it’s long overdue.


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