Monday, November 30, 2009
Updated: December 1, 1:52 PM ET
Sources: Sixers closer to Answer
By Marc Stein
DALLAS -- Allen Iverson could be back in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform as early as next Monday night.
Two sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that the Sixers are indeed targeting Monday's home game against the Denver Nuggets -- another of Iverson's former teams -- if they go forward with what appears to be a growing intent to bring back their controversial franchise icon.
After club officials met face-to-face with Iverson and his representatives for nearly two hours Monday before Philadelphia's 104-102 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, three of the organization's key figures -- Sixers coach Eddie Jordan, general manager Ed Stefanski and Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider -- all insisted publicly that no firm decision has been made on re-signing Iverson for the rest of the season.
But sources stressed to ESPN.com that plans behind the scenes have progressed to a level where Iverson's return is now regarded by both sides as far more likely than not. Although it remains unclear whether Iverson has the leverage to command anything more than a prorated share of the $1.3 million veterans' minimum, all indications late Monday suggested that only an unforeseen about-face by the Sixers could prevent Iverson from formally rejoining them by week's end.
One source said that the team has already made tentative plans to send assistant coach and former Iverson teammate Aaron McKie home from the Sixers' current road trip to meet Iverson in Philadelphia later this week and work him out to ensure Iverson's readiness for the Denver game. The Sixers play Thursday in Oklahoma City and Saturday in Charlotte before returning to Philadelphia.
Although another team insider cautioned that no deal with Iverson should be considered done until it's official -- especially after the New York Knicks seemed to get just as close to signing Iverson earlier this month before electing to back out at the 11th hour -- there was an unquestioned sense of inevitability in the locker room in Dallas that Iverson will soon be a Sixer again.
"No doubt he's coming back," one source said.
Said Sixers reserve guard Royal Ivey: "He's a Hall of Fame-type player. He's a great leader. I think he'd help us if he decided to come back. He's a great contributor. I'd like to have him as a teammate. It's that clear and simple.''
The prospect of a reunion -- which seemed unfathomable in the wake of Iverson's request to be traded early in the 2006-07 season and the deal soon thereafter that sent him to Denver -- gathered steam Monday afternoon when Iverson, agent Leon Rose and longtime business manager Gary Moore met with a four-strong Sixers delegation that included Jordan, Stefanski, McKie and assistant general manager Tony DiLeo.
Stefanski said in a statement afterward that both parties remain noncommittal about a final decision and that the Sixers "will continue to discuss internally whether or not to pursue this course."
But two of the major hurdles Iverson has to clear to get a second shot with the team that drafted him and launched him into prominence in 1996 were cleared Monday. One of them was the face-to-face sitdown, which Sixers officials considered a must after the acrimonious nature of Iverson's exits in Detroit and Memphis. The other was the blessing of Snider, who said in his own statement that Stefanski has the freedom to sign or pass on Iverson without worrying about any leftover residue from Iverson's departure nearly three years ago.
Snider said: "While nothing has been decided ... I support him and his basketball decisions."
Jordan refused to share specifics about the meeting but said: "All of us liked what [Iverson] talked about today. ... He's a charming individual. It was really good, really intriguing."
Mired at 5-13 after its seventh straight loss, Philadelphia is looking for a guard after losing starter Lou Williams for at least eight weeks with a broken jaw and looking even harder for someone who can generate some buzz to lift the Sixers out of the bottom two in NBA attendance.
The signing would be a gamble nonetheless, given Iverson's well-chronicled refusal to accept anything other than a guaranteed spot in the starting lineup wherever he plays. It's a stance that only one team was willing to ignore last summer when the 34-year-old was a free agent, but Iverson lasted only three games with the Memphis Grizzlies after signing a one-year deal worth $3.1 million.
There are also concerns about what sort of influence Iverson would be on youngsters such as Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights and whether he will be able to accept a scaled-back role when Williams returns from injury. It's likewise believed that Iverson and Sixers guard Andre Iguodala did not part on the best terms when Iverson headed to Denver, which could have given Philadelphia further pause.
Jordan, though, doesn't sound concerned at all about how much Iverson has left after 13 seasons of pounding. It seems that he, too, paid little attention to the retirement statement Iverson issued on Thanksgiving eve, presumably in frustration after what sources say he believed was a "done deal" with the Knicks fell through.
Asked what Iverson could bring to the Sixers at this stage of his career, Jordan said: "An aggressive scoring mentality. A guy that could take over games. ... He's a guy that's been to the top, a guy that's been to the Finals, a guy that would be an extra weapon on the floor for us."
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 -- his retirement plans were greeted with considerable leaguewide skepticism, largely because Iverson's statement included claims that there is "a whole lot left in my tank" and his strong belief that he "can still compete at the highest level."
Said Jordan: "We'll see what happens in another few days."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.