Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Who's really running the Sixers?
By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com
By all accounts, Allen Iverson's fingerprints will not be found on Randy Ayers. He has made no unpleasant public statements regarding the Philadelphia 76ers' newest ex-coach, and if he had private complaints, he kept them well hidden.
Besides, he had bigger fish to fry. He said he would like to have input in any trades the Sixers might make to save their floundering season.
In other words, he wants to sign up for the latest form of athlete bling -- general manager without portfolio.
After all, the last beachhead, the hiring and firing of coaches, has been taken and held. Players not only vote their stock, they find that their stock counts for more than anyone else's. Except, of course, in Atlanta, where Terry Stotts is turning into Red Auerbach before our very eyes simply by showing up for work every day.
No, in Atlanta, they just blow the team up and start again around a new figure. Indeed, the Rasheed Wallace/Shareef Abdur-Rahim deal allows both Stotts and Maurice Cheeks a bit of temporary cover.
Unless, of course, Zach Randolph and Stephen Jackson had "input" on the deal, and we don't know about it yet.
But we digress. The fact that players are now actively inserting themselves into the GM deal means that they have: A) decided to back the concept of keeping the jewelry in a safe place, B) know that getting a coach fired barely merits notice anymore, and C) understand that when you live near the top of the food chain, the real alpha males have to find their prey in new and exotic places.
And that's the key here. Iverson has made his bones, employment-wise. He has been the clear and undisputed leader of the 76ers for years. He was the key figure in the Sixers' run toward the NBA title in 2001. He makes more money than any other employee in the company.
He has, in short, done it all, including, according to some, influencing Larry Brown to find his coaching bliss in Detroit.
So what else is there? Buying the team? He isn't rich enough ... yet. Getting the owner fired? Well, Pat Croce left, but he was hardly fired. Taking out the GM? Well, he could, I suppose, but he hasn't.
But a place at the table when the fates of teammates are decided ... now that's some heat.
Imagine the power coursing through your capillaries when you walk into the locker room, knowing that you can either make someone disappear or make them think you can.
"Trade me? Hah! Trade him!" Sort of puts the big yellow Hummer in the players' lot to shame now, doesn't it?
This is not to single out Iverson, either. He isn't the first athlete to make his greater roster desires clear, not by a long shot.
But as this new form of leverage becomes more public, it influences a greater number of lesser players to want the same kind of throw-weight, and not just in basketball, either.
After all, envy is the sincerest form of flattery in these high-level athletic circles, and since it was made clear long ago that the highest-paid player trumps everyone but the guy doing the paying, what's a general manager to do but pull up an extra chair and say, "So, what do you think?"
And it isn't a short walk from that one to, "So what do I think?"
Life's full of delicious quirks that way ... at least in the pro sports biz. You and I don't have that kind of fastball, for simple Darwinian reasons we needn't repeat here. The big dogs eat first, and if the daily special is slightly smaller dogs ... well, bone appetite, if you get our drift.
In the meantime, coaches come and coaches go -- Kelly Girls in GQ-quality suits. Today, Randy Ayers ... tomorrow, Johnny Davis, or Scott Skiles, or (fill in your favorite blank). It's almost an afterthought now.
I mean, if coaches can't even get a year in before getting dope-slapped out the door, it's hardly worth a player's bother. In the strange world of anyone-you-can-smoke-I-can-smoke-better, it's like getting an assistant equipment man fired.
The best players have simply moved on to bigger game, namely ... each other.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.