Monday , Dec , 07 , 2009 Christopher Sells

Unanswered Question

Unanswered QuestionIt’s safe to say that Allen Iverson has dominated the news in the past few weeks. There was his unhappiness with coming off the bench. His leave of absence from the Grizzlies and his subsequent contract termination. The signing with the Knicks that never happened. His retirement. The outcry from players and coaches who didn’t think it should end this way for The Answer. The survey of teams that were unwilling to take a chance on him. The talks with John Thompson and Larry Brown. The interest from the Sixers. Signing with the Sixers. Crying at the press conference. A probable start in his first game back against a former team.

None of those things will matter tonight. Iverson will put on the jersey of a team he probably should have never left and he’ll get one of the biggest ovations ever when he is reintroduced to the Philly crowd. Then they’ll tip off and this news will be old. People will undoubtedly still have thoughts about what did and didn’t happen since last summer, but it will be unimportant. What will matter is what takes place on the court.

And that’s what I’m wondering about personally. Exactly what will it take for Iverson’s stay in Philadelphia to be considered a success? We presume that he’ll be there for the rest of the season, but AI is playing with an unguaranteed contract. If things don’t work out, he could be let go immediately. So his time to prove his worth begins now. Tomorrow is literally not promised, though his coach talks as if he’ll be around for it all.

The Sixers are 5-15 and are the worst team in the NBA not named the Nets or the Timberwolves. For all the attention New Jersey garnered for their record-breaking ineptitude, Philly is only four games ahead of them in the standings. Players are adjusting to a new coach, some are underachieving, others are unhappy. The point guard situation, which was never good to begin with, got worse when Lou Williams was sidelined with a broken jaw. In short, things have not been good in the City of Brotherly Love.

The easiest way to gauge the success of the Iverson experiment will be wins and losses. The team is bad, but they’re currently only three games out of a playoff spot. One would figure that if the Sixers won more games than they lost from here out, they’d be a postseason participant. This may be a tall order, though, considering the disarray the team is in.

It has also been suggested that signing Iverson may just be a way to get fans in the building to watch a team that hasn’t been drawing too much of a crowd. They rank next to last in attendance, but tonight’s game is sold out and standing room only. The team says tickets for its next two games are selling rather quickly as well. Traffic to tripled in the days following the announcement. So the signing looks to be a good business decision even if it doesn’t pan on on the court. When you watch the game (which you should do, since it’s nationally televised on NBATV), count the number of Iverson jerseys you see. People in Philadelphia love AI, and they may spend their hard-earned dollars to see him perform night after night.

Maybe we should use individual stats to judge the success of this endeavor. He averaged 17 and 5 during a troubled season in Detroit. One would think that he would have to do more than that to help this team. The Pistons were a team of veterans with several established players. These Sixers are Andre Iguodala and everyone else. Elton Brand has struggled a bit, Thaddeus Young is an improving but unknown commodity, Williams is injured, no one else really merits being mentioned. I’ve seen some saying that 20 and 8 is what we should expect from Iverson. I think that may be an unrealistic expectation, but anything approaching those numbers would certainly prove that he still deserves to play and start in this league.

Or maybe we should judge the intangibles. While Iverson is happy to be a Sixer, he made it known over the summer that he wanted to play for a contender. When no contenders showed any interest because of his baggage– be it real or perceived– he was forced to join the Grizzlies, presumably to show that he could be a good teammate and to persuade a winning team to bring him in. The situation in Philadelphia might not be much different, aside from Iverson’s starting role. As mentioned before, this contract is non-guaranteed and expires at season’s end. Iverson may be facing these same challenges next summer. The things he does now might determine where and if he continues his career next season. Some things that could be scrutinized by future employers: practice habits, influence on teammates, community service, leadership and assimilation into a team’s structure.

These are the things facing Allen Iverson as he prepares to lace up his Questions before tonight’s game. The answers to these questions depend on how he decides to go forward after being granted a second chance. There may be outside influences but, just like it used to be, The Answer has the answers. He’s just waiting to reveal them to the rest of us.