A Difficult Call In Philly

By John Smallwood
Updated: February 23, 2010

PHILADELPHIA — This is a delicate situation, because Allen Iverson is doing the right thing.

Family is family, and if he feels he needs to be with his 4-year-old daughter, Messiah, during her ongoing illness, that’s exactly where he should be.

I applaud the 76ers for looking at Iverson as a man and father instead of only a basketball player. They provided him the leeway to leave the team and take care of what’s truly important.

That said, the Sixers have another decision to make, now that Iverson has been granted an “indefinite” leave only three games after he returned from missing five games.

This one isn’t about the man, and it must be made with the hard-line reasoning of what is best for the team.

Shut Iverson down for the rest of the season.

Sure, the timing would seem cold, but basketball doesn’t stop, and difficult decisions still must be made.

So the Sixers should give Iverson their blessings and full support but tell him it’s best for both sides if the team moves on without him.

Entering Tuesday’s game at Golden State, the Sixers are 21-34 and seven games in the loss column out of the eighth and final seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Not that most people failed to realize this a long time ago, but with just 27 games remaining, the postseason is not happening.

Still, there are things that must be accomplished over the rest of the season, and the Sixers need to concentrate on that without the distraction of wondering when, or whether, Iverson will rejoin them.

By not making a team-altering transaction before Thursday’s NBA trading deadline, Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski reaffirmed his commitment to the belief that his team has a young nucleus that he thinks can mature.

There’s no time like the present to start finding out about the future, and I can’t think of any scenario in which Iverson, whose skills have declined, plays a significant role in the Sixers’ future.

Stefanski made a legitimate basketball decision when he re-signed Iverson, because Lou Williams had a long-term injury and the Sixers needed a veteran guard.

Iverson was the best choice at the time.

But while Iverson has been a good soldier and has adequately helped the Sixers by averaging 13.9 points and 4.1 assists, playing him 31.9 minutes a game became counterproductive as soon as the Sixers were reasonably eliminated from playoff contention.

There were only two basketball reasons to have a 34-year-old Iverson as a vital part of this roster.

The first was to see whether he could spark some kind of a playoff run.

The Sixers’ overall poor play took care of that.

The second reason was to see whether Iverson had matured enough into a veteran player who would impart his knowledge and experience on such youngsters as Williams, Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights.

From all indications, Iverson accepted that role and served well. But now, with the team unsure whether he’s staying out or coming back, the Sixers must be concerned that he will become too much of a distraction to provide anything positive.

Bouncing in and out of the lineup is not the type of inconsistency this team needs right now if it has any chance of making anything good out of this putrid campaign.

The Sixers’ goal over the last third of the season should be a total commitment to developing their young players and finding where or whether they fit together in this puzzle.

That particularly applies to the backcourt, where Holiday, the 19-year-old point guard, has to be force-fed as much experience has possible.

I think we’ve seen enough to know that if Williams has a future with the Sixers, it will be as a sixth man. He never will be a full-time starting point in the NBA.

The Sixers drafted Holiday for his upside. That doesn’t start to get fulfilled until the kid starts playing.

It’s not enough to just start Holiday. He needs to play way more than the 19.0 minutes a game he is averaging – as much as 80 to 90 percent more.

Also, Stefanski did trade with Milwaukee for rookie shooting guard Jodie Meeks.

The Sixers thought enough of Meeks that they tried to acquire a second-round pick to select him in the draft.

Well, now that you have him, find out whether he can play.

Iverson’s absence provides the perfect opportunity to give minutes to Meeks and expand Holiday’s. It shouldn’t be used to give more minutes to Williams or Willie Green.

Whatever the Sixers are going to become, Iverson will not be a big part of it.

He is the past for this franchise, a nostalgic reminder of better times.

Iverson is where he feels he needs to be – with his family.

There is no argument against that, but the Sixers need to close the book. It’s time to finally step cleanly into the future without him.