A mistake from the start??

By Bob Ford
Updated: March 3, 2010

PHILADELPHIA — Well, that was fun.

The nonstop thrill ride that was Allen Iverson, Part II, came to an end Tuesday when 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski announced that Iverson would miss the rest of this exciting NBA season.

It was an oddly worded statement in a way, but what hasn’t been odd about the team’s whole misguided dalliance with the past?

“After discussing the situation with Allen, we have come to the conclusion that he will not return to the Sixers for the remainder of the season, as he no longer wishes to be a distraction to the organization and teammates that he loves very deeply,” the statement attributed to Stefanski said.

Not: “Allen has decided he will not return.”

Not: “Allen has been told not to return.”

But: ” . . . we have come to the conclusion that he will not return . . .”

So, we don’t know who was the decider in this mess, and who was the decidee, but it is admittedly a reasonable conclusion since Iverson has been gone for two weeks. What took so long to reach that conclusion is another matter.

It should have been embarrassing for the organization when coach Eddie Jordan had to admit he didn’t know whether to expect Iverson on any given day. That’s no way to keep a team focused, with everyone casting a glance over his shoulder every time the door opened on the practice court.

Embarrassing the Sixers isn’t easy, though, and if the two months Iverson was on the roster didn’t do it, nothing probably will.

Let’s pause right here and acknowledge that there is an apparently sick child involved in this story, and although neither Iverson nor the Sixers have been forthcoming about the nature or severity of the illness, that situation must be understandably difficult for Iverson.

It might be less difficult if, as he said when he signed, he was committing himself fully to Philadelphia, and moved his family here. If that were the case, he could have kept doing his job.

Iverson is not served by the memory that he often missed work in his first tenure here because of illness at home. He is further not served by the additional memory that he was occasionally spotted out on the town during those absences, or that he was able to make an appearance in Charlotte, N.C., last weekend.

Whatever. Everyone wants the child to recover fully. That’s not the issue.

The issue isn’t even Iverson, who is as he always was, with the exception of not being a dominant basketball force any longer.

The issue is with the Sixers and it is still worth asking: “What were they thinking?” At the time, and to this day, Stefanski has said that signing Iverson was a purely basketball decision.

It was necessitated by the broken jaw suffered by Lou Williams, and Iverson was the best guard out there. (Guess the Bucks weren’t ready to lose Jodie Meeks yet.)

Stefanski insisted there was no attempt to merely spark interest in his dead-in-the-water team, or to employ Iverson as a means of putting people in the Wachovia Center.

As it turned out, the move was purely about basketball because after drawing 20,000 to Iverson’s triumphant return, the team went back to playing in front of whoever happened to be loitering outside the building.

Stefanski essentially said, “In our judgment, Allen Iverson can help us win on the basketball court.”

Which has led to the obvious observation that the Sixers’ basketball judgment stinks. If the team was this wrong about a player with which it should be extremely familiar, then how can the front office be trusted to form reasonable assessments of other players?

Iverson, however you feel about him, still played with intensity and, even at 34, appeared to like losing much less than his teammates. It is a circular irony that his last game this time around, just like his first run in Philadelphia, was on the road in Chicago.

Last time, he quit on Maurice Cheeks and went to the locker room after the third quarter. This time, he played his 29 minutes, scored his 13 points, and went back to Atlanta after a 122-90 thumping. He had seen enough.

Filling the hole left on the roster has been no big deal. Iverson’s presence messed up the starting lineup and forced Jordan to give valuable minutes to a 32-percent shooter whose defense is even worse than the rest of the revolving doors on his team.

Iverson’s distraction value was worth something, though, and now there’s nothing to focus on except the team’s dim future and unwatchable present. Against Orlando on Monday night, for instance, the Sixers didn’t try very hard, which is allegedly the most unforgivable sin in this town.

Even bad teams can’t give up 68 points in a half if they are trying.

Jordan called them out after the game, saying they “lost the passion to compete,” and the players mostly responded with a shrug and a “that’s his opinion.”

They aren’t listening anymore, and now they are giving up at times.

History tells us that’s not good for the coach.

If it’s any consolation, Jordan won’t have to find minutes for Allen Iverson any longer. The bad news, and this is really bad news, is that he’s got no one who really deserves to inherit them.