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Almost one year later, it looks like the proverbial trade that helped neither team.
Examine it with more than a mere glance at the standings and the initial reaction here to last February's Chris Webber trade still applies.
I liked the deal better for the Philadelphia 76ers then, and I like it better for the Sixers now in spite of their own list of issues.This has nothing to do with Webber's triumphant return to Arco Arena on Tuesday night: 20 points and 16 boards in Philly's 111-98 win. This is the analysis because it's tough to feel otherwise until we see what the Kings can pull off in the big follow-up move they have to make after exiling Webber.
To take such a stance, granted, amounts to second-guessing Sacramento's Geoff Petrie, which nobody ever does. I remember speaking to a few Petrie peers in the hours after the trade and the response from those GMs was almost unanimous: Petrie must know something about Webber that no one else knows.
In this case, though, Petrie remains ripe for questioning some 10 months on, even if you agree with the Kings' contention that they had to trade Webber wherever they could, and for whatever they could get back, to have more financial flexibility to start building back up to elite status.
The problem? The Kings remain at least one more significant deal away from convincing anyone that they've found that direction. It's too premature to say that Petrie won't find it after dealing Webber, especially given his track record. Yet even when you concede that the three players Sacramento took back (Kenny Thomas, Corliss Williamson and Brian Skinner) are easier to move separately in future trades than finding a Webber taker, it's not easy to picture where the Kings proceed from here.
The Sixers can thus claim the more hopeful outlook on this scorecard. They have some serious problems, too, and they're not little ones -- Philly doesn't defend or rebound well and fields a suspect bench in spite of the league's No. 4 payroll. Yet now that Webber and Allen Iverson have defied the doubters who said they'd never be able to play together, I'd rather be Philly. I'd rather be the team that has to keep tweaking in search of the right supporting mix as opposed to the club that has to establish a core to believe in.
Iverson, at 30, has three more years on his contract after this one and probably isn't going anywhere if the Sixers haven't traded him by now. He remains a physical marvel, showing no hint of the thirtysomething plague known to afflict little guards, but Iverson's psyche needed the Sixers to make a bold move to believe they were still serious about winning. The gamble on Webber's microfracture-repaired left knee was bigger than most, but the payoff means AI has a sidekick he trusts and respects.
"I did not feel it was a risk," Sixers president Billy King said this week, "because every doctor I spoke with felt he could play with the repaired knee."
It becomes even less of a risk with Webber embracing his second-fiddle status and, as King noted, "playing at an All-Star level." The Kings' desire to move Webber stems partly from the belief that Webber would have never accepted a No. 2 designation in Natomas County. Yet one opposing coach recently told me that Webber is actually "a pass-first player now," willingly clearing the lane for Iverson's drives by frequently operating in the high post and playing set-up man.
We'd be stretching to paint the Sixers' outlook as rosy. The mere presence of Iverson and Webber guarantees that they'll be well over the salary cap for the next two seasons after this one, and they're struggling attendance-wise for the first time in the Answer Era with the team hovering around .500. AI and Webb, furthermore, can expect to keep hearing plenty of durability questions.
However . . .
Iverson, after the failed partnerships with Jerry Stackhouse and Keith Van Horn and Glenn Robinson, finally appears to have clicked with a No. 2. The Sixers also have a promising No. 3 (Andre Iguodala) and a reasonably priced shooter (Kyle Korver) to distract them from Webber's (and Iverson's) vulnerabilities defensively, concerns about board work and the $80 million invested in two centers (Samuel Dalembert and Steven Hunter) expected to ease those concerns.
The Kings? They mostly have question marks. The attempt to mesh the holdover, pass-and-cut trio of Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic and Brad Miller with post-up newcomers Bonzi Wells and Shareef Abdur-Rahim wasn't wowing the locals even before the injuries hit. Stojakovic becomes a free agent this summer, but trading Webber hasn't hushed the belief that he'd rather play for the Lakers, Chicago or Miami.
Coach Rick Adelman is in the final year of his contract and undoubtedly wondering what it might be like to coach elsewhere, where he isn't the public's scapegoat for all his team's ills. His bench, incidentally, is thinner than Philly's, and trading Webber away hasn't exactly changed the Kings' injury fortunes.
So . . .
Trade Stojakovic between now and February to make sure he doesn't leave for nothing? Try to trade Bibby instead? Give the new fivesome more time to mesh or blow it all up in the quest for salary-cap room and draft picks?
Petrie probably deserves more than 10 months to deliver some answers, given how he swindled Webber from Washington back in 1998 and gradually built an empire. I simply believe he'll have to be even better now to rebuild it.
• Talk back to ... Marc Stein | The Daily Dime gang
• Dimes Past: December 29 | Dec. 30-Jan. 1 | Jan. 3
Readers respond to the latest edition of the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings:Darrin (New York): Hard not to justify a drop, given how the Lakers finished up in December, but tough road losses to above-.500 teams (after a month of mostly road games) should cut the Lakers some slack. And if Kobe's rough play proves anything, it's that's the Lakers need an enforcer. Could Kobe's elbows have been a non-verbal plea for Ron Artest?
Bobby (Memphis): How could you drop the Grizz three spots even when they won at LA, Portland and Seattle -- and almost took Utah at Utah? It's premature to drop the Grizz because of the Damon Stoudamire injury until they start losing. Losing Mighty Mouse will hurt, but at least wait to stick it to us until the Grizz feel it on the scoreboard!
Jason (Utah): I'm so glad to see the Jazz finally getting some respect. The biggest reason for the bad season last year was mostly injuries. This season is just further proof that Jerry Sloan is the most underrated coach in NBA history. He does a lot with not much and should have at least have two Coach of the Year awards already. If they make the playoffs this year, maybe he'll finally get it.
TheGodfather414 (Milwaukee): T.J. Ford's only out a couple weeks, and all NBA teams get routed at some point. You dropped my boys way too far.
Joseph Travaglini (Boston): I must say I actually agree with something you said for a change. Duncan shouldn't have cut his hair. Absolutely right. Along the same lines, Ricky Davis and Ben Wallace should sport the blowout fro at all times.
Stein: You recently got your first up-close look of the season at fellow kidney transplant patient Alonzo Mourning, who has been wowing us all season. How did he look to you?
Elliott: A lot of people at the game [Dec. 7 in San Antonio] were asking me if I was surprised about how well Alonzo's playing. My response was: "Not at all." When you have a [kidney] transplant, it's like someone turns a light on for you. You feel so much better. Alonzo is a big, strong guy. I always thought he'd be able to play at a high level.
Stein: But it didn't happen that way right away for Zo, right? Even after his transplant, he had to stop playing more than once.
Elliott: It's just a matter of time before you start to feel normal. When you're sick, your body acclimates to the sickness. Eventually your body is going to acclimate to the new kidney. After I had my transplant, I had boundless energy. I have to remind people that it wasn't my kidney that made me stop playing [in 2001]. It was my knees. It was other injuries, and I wasn't in a situation any more where I could just grab some Advil or Motrin to mask the pain [because of the transplant].
Stein: Zo's minutes have been coming down since the return of Shaquille O'Neal, but do you think he's convincing people that a transplant patient isn't limited on the basketball court?
Elliott: I wanted to be treated as 100 percent normal and I'm sure that's how he wants to be treated. Everyone is focusing on how he's playing after a kidney transplant, but you don't need to look at it like that. It's the way he's playing period. He's playing with so much aggression and he's in such good physical condition. He's blocking shots, rebounding, mixing it up.
Stein: What about the assertion that he wears down in some games, especially on the second night of back-to-backs?
Elliott: Don't forget that he's 35. If he's getting tired out there, it might be just as much age-related.
Stein: How much advice did Zo seek from you before and after his transplant?
Elliott: Early on, a lot. He was full of questions. But how can you prepare anybody for that? I told him from the start, "It's something you're going to have to go through and experience for yourself."
The signs were there, though. Seattle chose the low-key Bob Weiss to replace the hard-driving Nate McMillan back in July in hopes of maintaining some continuity, but the move was also widely perceived as a cost-friendly bit of settling from the Sonics. Three (very) early road losses by a combined 93 points only reinforced the idea that Weiss would have trouble inspiring a locker room that houses more than a few guys worried about their contract situations.
A roster full of free agents, including McMillan, clicked magically last season, but there's a reason we keep calling that a 52-30 fairytale. Perfect storms rarely converge two seasons in a row, and any notion of a repeat was promptly shelved when Rashard Lewis shared the news that he's already planning to opt-out of his current deal in the summer of 2007 . . . long before Seattle sorts out the futures of Vladimir Radmanovic and Reggie Evans.It's true that Sonics stars Ray Allen and Lewis heartily endorsed the idea of the Weiss succeeding the hard-driving McMillan. Yet the same stuff that appealed to Seattle's players -- Weiss' easy manner and penchant for playing card tricks on the plane -- were some of the same issues that prevented Weiss from lasting more than a season in his last head-coaching job as Larry Brown's replacement with the Clippers. He was too lax.
The Clips took advantage of that back then and so did these Sonics a decade later. With Seattle now at the bottom of the league in points-per-game allowed (105.2) and field-goal defense (49.8 percent), Bob Hill's first chore as Weiss' successor is getting a consistent effort and confronting the offenders who aren't giving the proper effort.
Hill will almost certainly get the rest of the season to make the job his but, according to NBA coaching sources, hasn't been promised more than that.
Reason being: Indy visits Golden State in a nationally televised game Thursday.
Just a hunch but I'm guessing the Pacers would rather see Artest debut for his new team against someone else.
The name of Warriors power forward Troy Murphy has been increasingly mentioned as a key component of any Warriors-Pacers swap, but it remains to be seen A) if Golden State would be willing to part with Murphy and B) if Indiana is truly prepared to absorb Murphy's contract (which runs for five more seasons beyond this one at $51 million).
Question is, what to do about it? A typical response from Phil Jackson, as opposed to sitting Kobe down one-on-one to probe for the root of his discontent, is to let Kobe sort it out on his own. Such a course would figure to be even more likely now that Bryant has been forced to cool down for two games in suspended isolation.
What I don't question is the insistence from Bryant and Lamar Odom that their relationship is fine, no matter how heated their recent post-game dispute in Washington got. Bryant has never been known for close friendships with teammates, but it's not widely known that he and Odom have been friendly since they were teenagers playing AAU ball. If Bryant had a deep-rooted problem with Odom, furthermore, chances are he wouldn't be urging his bosses to keep Odom in L.A. . . . at a time when making Odom available would greatly increase the Lakers' ability to trade for Ron Artest.
The offensively challenged Rockets, led by Tracy McGrady's 38 points, rung up a stunning 123 points to top their seasonal average by a tidy 35 and rout Washington in Washington . . . and without the injured Yao Ming. (On second thought, perhaps this says more about the Wizards' deplorable D.)
The Hawks have had three cracks at the Raptors -- two at home -- and they're still waiting for their first victory. Toronto shoved the hosts back into the NBA's basement with a 35-17 fourth quarter.
Quote of the Day
A look at the most active movers, upward and downward, in ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings:
Highest Rise: Utah Jazz
The Jazz jumped 10 places, from No. 23 to No. 13, with a 4-0 week, which also pushed their record to a healthy 13-8 when Andrei Kirilenko isn't out injured. Utah thus (barely) trumped the nine-spot jumps posted by New Jersey (No. 13 to a season-high No. 4) and surprising Orlando (No. 25 to No. 16).
Steepest Fall: Milwaukee Bucks
After we bumped the Bucks all the way up to No. 4 and made such a fuss about how they've been livin' right -- an 11-0 start in games decided by five points or less -- they promptly got routed in Orlando and then lost T.J. Ford to a three-week foot injury. Milwaukee thus slid six spots to No. 10.
Alerix (Greenville, SC): I think that Allen Iverson gets jobbed every year. Can you explain why a player of that stature is overlooked for MVP honors?Marc Stein: I think you're referring to my recent Trimester Awards column. Iverson was not my East MVP of the Trimester, so I suppose you're asking why I picked Billups (best player so far on the best team) over AI and his individual brilliance. It's like this in my world: If AI's greatness doesn't lead to significant team success, it's not as valuable as what Billups is doing now to take a good team over the top. Iverson, remember, actually has won an MVP trophy -- when his genius carried over to the standings, too. Agree or disagree if you wish; it's your right. But those are my standards.
In this week's ESPN Motion edition of the NBA Writers' Block, Marc Stein and ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher offer their perspectives on the Pistons, who were still on a 70-12 pace after the Cavs halted Detroit's nine-game win streak.