What prompted the Sixers to bring back Iverson?
Philadelphia 76ers president and general manager Ed Stefanski heard the warnings and understood the risks. He also saw the standings, with only two teams below his in the Eastern Conference. He saw Lou Williams wearing a sport jacket for the next two months. And he saw the empty seats at the Wachovia Center.
With his decisions to sign Elton Brand in 2008 (after not making an offer to Josh Smith) and to let Andre Miller walk away last summer so far backfiring, Stefanski is in a desperate situation, trying to find an answer to his team’s on-court troubles.
Is Allen Iverson the answer? We’ll soon find out. Philadelphia signed the former Sixers icon to a contract Wednesday morning. He’ll make his Sixers return on Monday against the Denver Nuggets.
Iverson’s return will surely fill some seats in Philly, but Stefanski’s first remarks in a media conference call on Wednesday were, “We made a basketball decision here,” immediately downplaying any idea that the Sixers signed Iverson to sell tickets.
“If it means that we start playing better basketball and bring fans in, that’s great,” Stefanski said. “But in order to sustain any kind of attendance in the building, you’ve got to win basketball games.”
If it weren’t for Williams’ broken jaw, Iverson still would be unemployed.
“Allen’s people, in the past, tried to bring him back to Philadelphia, but we were very satisfied and happy with Lou Williams,” Stefanski said. “But due to the injury and substantial amount of games [Williams will miss], we considered Allen. And he, by far in the opinion of the group and myself, was the best free agent available to what we need right now.”
Yet because this is Iverson and not other free agents like Jacque Vaughn or Eddie Gill, Stefanski needed approval from Comcast chairman Ed Snider. Snider ultimately left the decision up to Stefanski.
“You’re the basketball guy,” Snider told Stefanski. “You make the basketball decision.”
Stefanski consulted with “numerous people” in Memphis, including Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley. And no, the Sixers did not make Iverson a guarantee that he would be a starter. Stefanski said that the issue was addressed with Iverson, but “there was no guarantee from the organization or from [Sixers coach] Eddie Jordan at all.”
“I will say this,” Stefanski added. “We’re not bringing Allen Iverson in as a guy to add to our depth or as a practice player. We’re bringing him in to play basketball.”
After the team’s shootaround in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, Jordan told the Philadelphia Daily News, “I’m really looking to see if he can fit into our starting lineup, but it’s not etched in stone.”
Stefanski is more concerned that Iverson finish games.
“We’ve been in the games …,” he said, “but we’re missing the firepower of Lou Williams and Marreese Speights [who’s out with a knee injury].
“There’s no moral victories. You’ve got to get Ws. And that’s why we’re bringing [Iverson] in.”
The Sixers play the Thunder on Wednesday and finish their four-game road trip in Charlotte on Saturday. Iverson will practice with the team Sunday before his return.
The move comes at a cost: Stefanski admits that the addition of Iverson will delay the Sixers’ development of Jordan’s Princeton offense. Iverson is more suited for pick-and-roll action and standard NBA sets, but the team is running “only a small part” of the Princeton at this point anyway, looking to push the tempo whenever possible.
Stefanski also said that Iverson has incentive to keep his mouth shut and fit in.
“This kid has a legacy here in Philadelphia,” Stefanski said. “If he doesn’t get back in the NBA and play we want him to and the way he needs to, it’s not going to help him. He wants it badly to show that he is an NBA basketball player, especially coming back to Philly.
“This is a low risk for the organization, and a high reward.”