Six questions on Answer's 76ers return

Originally Published: December 2, 2009
ESPN.com

Allen IversonJesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesHe's 34 and totes a 27 ppg career scoring mark, but a lot of questions arise about The Answer.

The Philadelphia 76ers, reeling with seven straight losses, have come up with The Answer as a solution to their woes.

Allen Iverson, a four-time scoring champion who led the 76ers to the NBA Finals in 2001, is stepping back on the court for the home team in Philadelphia, accepting a second chance with the Sixers.

Here's what ESPN's panel of experts thought of the acquisition:

1. For Sixers: Marketing move, basketball move or desperation move?


Henry Abbott, ESPN TrueHoop: 25% marketing, 25% basketball, 50% desperation.

Desperation is an essential ingredient. Detroit and Memphis proved he won't fit in, so you bring him in only if you're willing to say goodbye to your current system. But he's good! So it could prove to be smart basketball.

And as for the marketing component -- the Iverson brand means more in Philly than anywhere else. Feels like no coincidence that's where he has popped up.

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: 70% marketing, 20% basketball, 10% desperation.

The Sixers are next to last in attendance, averaging 11,965 fans through eight home games. Basketballwise, it's not a step toward the gold trophy. He hasn't won a playoff series since 2003.

Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: 100% desperation.

Of that, it's 65% basketball move, 35% marketing.

Fact is, the Sixers have two highly paid vets (Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala), so they are in win-now mode (or at least playoff-now mode), and 5-13 won't cut it. Without Lou Williams, they've struggled to find someone to make plays down the stretch, and they feel A.I. can do that.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: 30% marketing, 40% basketball, 30% desperation.

If Lou Williams were healthy, I don't think they'd be looking at Iverson, so I still say the biggest chunk of this is basketball-driven. If he's willing to play for the minimum, he's by far the best player available at that price.

But you can make a stronger case that they wouldn't pursue this if they were playing well, or if the arena were selling out every night. It's a perfect confluence of all three, basically.

Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: 40% marketing, 20% basketball, 40% desperation.

I'd be a little more generous with the basketball part if I hadn't been to so many Sixers games in recent years, including playoff games, in which the place was half-empty and dead. Philly fans have been down on the Sixers for years. This breathes excitement back into the equation.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: 100% marketing, 0% basketball, 100% desperation.

I know the math doesn't add up, but this is all about a team that's 100 percent desperate to stay relevant and sell some tickets. The Sixers can say anything they want about needing guard help while Lou Williams' busted jaw heals, but everybody in the league sees it: Miles from title contention, Philly is making the business side its No. 1 priority.


2. Should A.I. start right away? What about when Lou Williams returns?


Abbott: Yes. If he's on the team, just spare us all the headaches and make your team all about him. It's just the way it has to be, and that's OK.

Adande: If the Sixers don't start him, they'll be startin' somethin' (to quote Michael Jackson). Keep it simple and keep him in the starting lineup -- even after Lou Williams comes back. Who would accept it better? Right.

Williams
Leon Halip/US PresswireWill Lou Williams be relegated to the bench when he returns from a broken jaw in eight weeks?

Broussard: Well, of course, he should start right away. He has to, or this would become Memphis (and even worse) all over again. Even once Lou Williams gets back, you're probably going to keep starting A.I. alongside Lou (assuming A.I. can still be productive).

The fact that the contract likely will be non-guaranteed gives the club the leverage to bench him, but we all know benching him essentially means releasing him.

Hollinger: Let's start with the easy one: When Williams returns, Iverson needs to come off the pine. If not, yeah-thanks-bye. One presumes the Sixers made this perfectly clear to Iverson, but one also wonders how much of that he heard.

Until Williams returns, however, there's no good reason not to start Iverson. The Sixers need to up the tempo and create more scoring, and that's exactly what he can do while Jrue Holiday -- the league's youngest player -- learns the ropes.

Sheridan: He plays only one way; he needs to be a starter to play that way; and Philly fans know that better than anyone. The Sixers can play Lou Williams off the bench, occasionally alongside Iverson. Both guys can be combo guards, but defensively, the lack of height makes them vulnerable.

Stein: Won't surprise me at all if the Sixers try to start Williams, Iguodala and Iverson to try to appease everyone when Williams comes back. Making that trio work might prove easier than trying to part company with Iverson during the season. Sending away a local legend in February or March, no matter how far you think Iverson has fallen, would be really tough PR-wise.


3. Bigger risk: Iverson disrupts team play or disrupts team off court?


Abbott: You can ensure he'll be no trouble off the court by starting him and giving him a zillion shots. Then he'll shoot you in or out of games, which might be better than what they have going now.

Adande: Iverson disrupts the team on court. He's 34 now, much less volatile. I doubt he'll be interacting with the Philadelphia police department as much this time.

Broussard: They go hand in hand. If it goes badly on the court, it'll go badly off the court. But "on the court" has to come first. A.I. won't disrupt the locker room if he's getting his minutes and shots. But what's the risk of on-court disruption when you're 5-13 and losers of seven straight? That's how Philly's brain trust sees it.

Hollinger: Much bigger risk off court. If he disrupts things on court, the solution is easy -- cut him. But if he starts convincing Holiday and Thaddeus Young that the way to be a "pro" is to hang out at the casino all night, blow off practice and let the other four guys worry about defense, the consequences could last far after Iverson is gone.

Sheridan: On court: He'll change the way the Sixers play, no doubt, but they've lost seven straight, so they need a disruption (or, better put, an injection). Off court: Atlantic City is only an hour away, and the emerging tabloidian Internet media won't ignore A.I.'s forays there the way the Philly media did during his first 76ers stint.

Stein: There's no on-court flow for Iverson to disrupt. But signing him just to bring back the buzz also means setting up Iverson as an example setter for Holiday and other youngsters. It also sends a message to Iguodala and the Sixers' other vets that winning and character are not the organization's priorities. Those are some significant drawbacks.


4. Will Iverson get the 76ers into the playoffs?


Abbott: They're lucky in that their best player, Andre Iguodala, doesn't need a ton of touches to contribute, so they are an unusual team that has the chance to improve with the addition of a born gunner. And, Iverson won't be pushing aside an established point guard. I bet he'll make them a tiny bit better and they'll squeak in.

[+] EnlargeAllen Iverson
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesCan A.I., who led Philly to the '01 Finals, propel it into the playoffs?

Adande: No. Too many better teams ahead of them, including Chicago, Toronto and Washington.

Broussard: This is a tough one, but I'll go with a hesitant, halfhearted "no." It won't be A.I.'s fault, though. He should make them better, and they definitely could make the playoffs. But I'll stick with "no" just because they've looked like garbage and he's not what he used to be.

Hollinger: It really has little to do with him -- the operative question is "Can Elton Brand get the 76ers back into the playoffs?" and the answer so far has been an emphatic "no." Iverson is no longer good enough to dramatically alter their fate.

Sheridan: Yes. They weren't on track to get there without him, and all the bad teams in the East (yes, even the Knicks) are only a two-week surge from bringing themselves back into the eight-seed hunt.

Stein: No playoffs for the Sixers. They're one of about nine teams trying to snag one of the last four playoff spots in the East, and they're in a bigger hole than the standings say because confidence and morale are low after an opening month filled with injuries and losses. And A.I. was never a galvanize-the-troops kind of a guy, even in his heyday.


5. Will Iverson finish the season with the Sixers?


Abbott: Yes. He has tasted retirement and spat it back out. And the Sixers have to know they can't expect him to sit on the bench.

Adande: Hmm, he hasn't finished the season with the past three teams he has played for … but this time around, I think he realizes either he finishes or he's finished.

Broussard: Another tough one, but I'll say "yes," again hesitantly and halfheartedly. Bottom line is if it ends badly in Philly, A.I.'s career is over. For real this time.

Hollinger: I suspect he won't, just because I'm not sure he grasps that he can no longer get away with being a law unto himself. Recent history says that he'll be fine as long as he can get shots and minutes but will react very badly when Williams comes back and that it will all go downhill from there.

Sheridan: Yes, and I think he'll finish his career there, too, if he leads them back to the playoffs and starts filling the house again. But if this project fails, I think A.I. will end up overseas -- that's where the most money will be available.

Stein: I really do expect him to last the rest of the season in Philly. It'll be a hugely unpopular decision when the Sixers let him go for the second time, no matter what happens in this stint, so I suspect they'll let it happen naturally by waiting until the offseason instead of trying to pull off a tricky, eight-week reunion.


6. Bottom line: Good move or bad?


Abbott: Good.

Adande: Good.

Broussard: Good.

Hollinger: Good.

Sheridan: Good.

Stein: Convenient.