Saturday, November 28, 2009
Source: Sixers only 'thinking' Iverson
By Marc Stein and Chris Sheridan
The Philadelphia 76ers have reconsidered their stance about bringing back franchise icon Allen Iverson and are weighing the merits of signing him, but team sources told ESPN.com on Saturday that Iverson's return is not a certainty and that no face-to-face meetings between Iverson and anyone from the franchise have been scheduled.
The sources said Iverson is just one of the free-agent guards Philadelphia is considering since losing Lou Williams for eight weeks because of a broken jaw, but he jumped to the top of their list for several reasons -- the severity of Williams' injury, the fact that Iverson's agent reached out to the 76ers asking for a second chance, and his box office appeal.
"We discussed him like we would any free agent, but we understand he's not just any free agent," one source told ESPN.com. "Are we thinking about it? Yes. But it hasn't gone beyond that."
If the Sixers decide to make a push for Iverson, one of the next steps would be a face-to-face meeting between Iverson and head coach Eddie Jordan. But ESPN.com's sources insisted that no meetings of any kind have been scheduled, nor has anyone from the team begun laying the foundation for any such meeting.
Losers of five straight games, the Sixers left Philadelphia on Saturday for a four-game road trip through San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City and Charlotte.
If Iverson is signed during that span, he would make his home debut for Philadelphia on Dec. 7 against Denver -- the team that dealt for him nearly three years ago after Iverson spent the first 10-plus seasons of his career in Philadelphia.
"I think we would look at all the options for sure, but nothing has really happened," Peter Luukko, COO of Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the 76ers, told The Associated Press. "We have had no formal discussions."
Sources with knowledge of the Sixers' thinking initially told ESPN.com on Friday that Philadelphia would not be pursuing Iverson, preferring instead to increase the minutes of rookie guard Jrue Holiday.
But the severity of Williams' injury changed the equation, and longtime Philadelphia sportswriter Stephen A. Smith, writing for FoxSports.com, quoted a team official early Saturday as saying that Iverson's return was being "seriously considered." Smith was the first to report Iverson's intention to retire Wednesday, with a lengthy retirement statement from Iverson running on Smith's personal Web site.
According to Smith's latest report, Jordan is one of several key figures in the organization who supports Iverson's return. Smith also reported that Jordan was poised to fly to Atlanta to meet with Iverson to hash out specifics about Iverson's potential role, possibly as soon as Tuesday after Philadelphia completes a back-to-back on the road in San Antonio and Dallas.
FoxSports.com's report quoted the unnamed Sixers official as saying: "We know the history. We know the ups and downs. But we're also aware of what [Iverson] can do and that he's needed here. We simply can't just ignore the upside he'd bring. Not with our situation."
If the Sixers decide to go ahead with an offer, their interest would be based as much on the buzz such a move could generate as any potential on-court boost.
The Sixers entered Friday's play ranked second-to-last in the league in average per-game attendance (11,820 fans) and last in terms of filling their arena to capacity. The Wachovia Center has been filled to only 58.2 percent of capacity so far this season; Memphis' per-game average of 11,387 fans represents 62.8 percent of capacity at FedEx Forum.
Less clear is whether Iverson -- whose insistence on starting has led to abrupt departures from the Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies in the past seven months -- is the right on-court fit for the Sixers. Philadelphia is believed to be weighing what sort of influence Iverson would be on youngsters such as Holiday, Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights and whether he could accept a scaled-back role when Williams returns. Sixers guard Andre Iguodala also has a more prominent role on the floor and in the locker room than he did when Iverson left in December 2006.
According to Smith's report, Tuesday is also when Iverson is scheduled to meet with his former Georgetown coach John Thompson, who responded to Iverson's retirement announcement Wednesday by telling ESPN Radio 980 in Washington, D.C., that he intended to try to talk Iverson out of retirement.
One Sixers source told Smith: "Let's face it. We're very, very boring right now. We have absolutely nothing to lose by bringing Iverson back. Nothing at all."
The Sixers are almost $6.6 million under this season's luxury-tax threshold, so they can afford to sign Iverson for the rest of the season without any serious financial consequences.
Iverson became a free agent earlier this month when he and the Grizzlies agreed to a mutual parting after the 34-year-old played in just three games.
Iverson has played one game in Philadelphia since he was traded, with Denver on March 19, 2008. He planted a kiss on the 76ers logo at midcourt, blew imaginary ones to the fans, and regretted how his Sixers career ended.
"I always wanted to finish my career here in Philadelphia," he said. "The opportunity was there for me to do it. In a lot of ways, I made sure that didn't happen."
A 10-time All-Star who was NBA MVP in 2001 when he led the Sixers to the NBA Finals, Iverson wanted out in 2006 and was traded to the Nuggets. He played for Denver until early last season when he was traded to Detroit. Larry Brown, his former coach in Philadelphia who is now coaching the Charlotte Bobcats, said it would be great to see Iverson reunited with the Sixers.
"I just want to see him back in the league. He's loved in Philly," Brown said before the Bobcats played at Washington on Saturday. "He did a phenomenal job for that franchise. If you look at games now, they're not nearly as exciting. There's not as many people at the games. We need him in the league."
After Iverson averaged 12.3 points and 3.7 assists in 22.3 minutes per games in his short Memphis stay -- having missed most of training camp with a partially torn hamstring -- it's widely believed around the league that it won't be hard for any interested team to convince Iverson to shelve his retirement plans. Iverson's retirement statement Wednesday was greeted with considerable leaguewide skepticism, largely because it included claims from Iverson that there is "a whole lot left in my tank" and his strong belief that he "can still compete at the highest level."
ESPN.com reported Wednesday that Iverson and his advisers regarded an offer from the New York Knicks earlier to be a "done deal," which is said to be one of the main reasons Iverson was so willing to leave Memphis with the modest take-home sum of $437,609 from the $3.1 million contract he originally signed with the Grizzlies. But the Knicks ultimately decided to abandon their Iverson interest, believing that the challenges involved in blending in Iverson's game and personality outweighed the potential benefits.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com and Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com NBA Insider. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.