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Mark Heisler | SUNDAY REPORT

Iverson isn't over yet, but he is out

December 10, 2006|Mark Heisler

\o7 "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about that.

-- Allen Iverson

Jan. 3, 2005

OK, back in the real world....

It finally dawned on Iverson that belief was one thing and the 76ers were another.

After weeks of one-sided losses and spats with nice-guy Coach Maurice Cheeks, Iverson took himself out in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's 121-94 no-show in Chicago with a bad back and asked team President Billy King to trade him.

Of course, Iverson has asked to be traded lots of times and King has tried to trade him lots of times without being asked.

This time it's happening. Iverson isn't over -- at 31 he still leads the league in minutes and in scoring -- but the 76ers finally conceded they are.

In a melodramatic touch, the 76ers didn't just shop Iverson, they splashed it all over the papers. Miffed that he didn't practice Thursday, they told him to stay home Friday and Saturday while they lost to the Wizards and the Magic.

They aren't just holding a fire sale, they announced it will be a short one.

Not that anyone should be surprised. The organization has as many foibles as Iverson, if none of his brilliance.

Iverson arrived in 1996 in the psychedelic reign of Pat Croce, made the NBA Finals in 2001 with Larry Brown as coach ... and they were breaking up and making up daily then. A deal sending Iverson to Detroit in 2000 was foiled only by teammate Matt Geiger's refusal to waive his 15% trade kicker.

All that remains, upstairs and down, is a shambles. Croce and Brown are gone, along with marketing ace Dave Coskey. In a move that shocked the organization, publicist Karen Frascona was cashiered last summer, taking the fall after King and Cheeks couldn't get their stories straight, trying to cover up when Iverson and Chris Webber skipped Fan Appreciation Night.

Their fanatic base is slipping away, too; they're No. 22 in attendance.

King, a former Duke player who arrived as one of Brown's bright young assistants, is such an attractive figure, local Democrats once mused about asking him to run for the U.S. Senate. Nevertheless, King had no front office experience until being sent upstairs to tell Croce what Brown needed.

Now King is on his own. When he hired Cheeks in 2004, he was still paying off both of the coach's predecessors, Randy Ayers and Jim O'Brien. Unfortunately for the 76ers, Cheeks proved to be the most overmatched of the three, convincing King the end was near for someone, if not everyone.

On draft day King announced he would "change the culture," working out a three-way deal with Boston and Utah that would have sent Iverson to the Celtics for Carlos Boozer and Randy Foye.

The 76ers say someone else backed out. The prevailing suspicion is that King realized what would happen to him when Philly fans saw Iverson leading the Celtics to the playoffs while their team was winning 20 games.

If King was in over his head, he was Red Auerbach compared to the rest of the executive suite. Corporate boss Ed Snider, the longtime owner of the NHL Flyers, became titular head of both teams when Comcast bought them in 1996 but showed no interest in the 76ers until they became the hottest ticket in town.

Last season, with an ice age dawning and losses mounting, Comcast decided to bail, putting the 76ers -- but not the Flyers -- up for sale, hiring an investment firm to evaluate offers. Then a month ago, it took the basketball team off the market.

With the Iverson story breaking, King was professionally circumspect, only to see Snider blab everything to ESPN's sideline reporter, Lisa Salters, as soon as her cameraman turned on his light.

Snider said Iverson would be traded, made only a brief acknowledgment of AI's contributions and, asked if he had played his last game for them, said "probably."

Everyone is rounding up the usual suspects but Denver Coach George Karl says his team is out. Despite prattling by local anchors, the Clippers aren't interested and King still doesn't want Iverson in Boston.

That leaves Minnesota as the front-runner. While bowing out, Karl noted, "The rumor is Minnesota is pretty strong. I think Minnesota is going to try and do it."

Happily for the Timberwolves, it may not take much. The 76ers love rookie Foye, the former Villanova star, even if he's lost. Foye and $12 million worth of spare parts (pick two from Mike James, Eddie Griffin, Ricky Davis) may do.

This would electrify Minnesota, get everyone off Kevin Garnett's case and make the West even tougher (this just in: Clippers, Kings, Warriors and Hornets become dark horses to make the playoffs if this goes down.)

The 76ers are going back behind the moon but there's a big draft coming. It's a good season to start again, even if, as Webber noted, Iverson is "the heart of Philadelphia," adding, "I can't imagine Philadelphia without him."

By next summer when his contract is up, Webber won't have to imagine Philadelphia at all. More for the 76ers than for Iverson, the end is coming.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Points of emphasis

Allen Iverson owns the third-best scoring average in NBA history (minimum of 400 games played):

*--* PLAYER G FGM FTM POINTS AVG MICHAEL JORDAN 1,072 12,192 7,327 32,292 30.1 WILT CHAMBERLAIN 1,045 12,681 6,057 31,419 30.1 ALLEN IVERSON 697 6,841 5,024 19,583 28.1 ELGIN BAYLOR 846 8,693 5,763 23,149 27.4 JERRY WEST 932 9,016 7,160 25,192 27.0 BOB PETTIT 792 7,349 6,182 20,880 26.4 SHAQUILLE O'NEAL 945 9,832 5,155 24,820 26.3 GEORGE GERVIN 791 8,045 4,541 20,708 26.2 OSCAR ROBERTSON 1,040 9,508 7,694 26,710 25.7 KARL MALONE 1,476 13,528 9,787 36,928 25.0

*--*

Source: NBA

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