Point guard Allen Iverson has been a busy man. Since he burst
onto the scene last season with extraordinary skills and
precious few wins to show for them, he has been exhibit A of
what is good--and bad--about young players today.
He was vilified for declaring that he didn't feel the need to
respect anyone on the basketball court (the player in question
at the time was Michael Jeffrey Jordan) and became the snotty
Generation X poster child whom retired and active NBA veterans
attacked as the representative of what is ailing the sport.
"I've been through it all, in one year," said Iverson. "I'm not
worried about anything. I feel like I've seen most of it already."
The package Iverson delivered last year included his Reebok
sneaker, called the Question (the sequel, called--you guessed
it--the Answer, is on the way), a Rookie of the Year trophy
(veteran Charles Barkley asserted that what Iverson really
deserved was to be named Playground Rookie of the Year) and
averages of 23.5 points, 7.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game.
Unfortunately, the Sixers' record was 22-60.
The controversy swirling around Iverson intensified in August
when a speeding car in which he was riding was stopped by
Virginia police. Iverson was charged with possession of a
concealed handgun and marijuana. After he pleaded no contest to
the misdemeanor gun charge, the marijuana charge was dropped,
and Iverson had a new issue to address.
Meanwhile, Iverson was preparing for his second season with his
second coach, Larry Brown, a specialist at turning around
moribund ball clubs and well-known for squeezing the most out of
his players. Brown, himself a former pro point guard, has a
reputation for showing no mercy toward his floor leaders, but he
named Iverson team captain before the season opener.
The marriage of Iverson and Brown will have its uneasy days, but
the exuberance each showed toward the other in the preseason was
promising. Indeed, after one session with his new mentor,
Iverson declared, "I think God has sent me Larry Brown."
The rest of the Sixers are hoping to share Iverson's enthusiasm.
Brown's other task is to bridle the obvious yet undisciplined
talents of Jerry Stackhouse, who checked in with some gaudy
offensive numbers of his own (20.7 points) last season.
The Sixers must find shots for Jimmy Jackson, acquired from New
Jersey in a draft-day deal. Jackson had the most erratic season
of his five-year career in 1996-97 and is hoping to find a niche
under the watchful eye of Brown. If he can, Jackson and
Stackhouse will split minutes at shooting guard and small forward.
The biggest challenge facing Brown will be to persuade power
forward Derrick Coleman to play every night and to realize the
potential that he has been unable to tap into during his
lackluster seven-year career. Despite requesting a trade,
Coleman showed up at camp on time and has done what's been asked
of him. His college coach, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, observed,
however, that Coleman needs to lose at least 20 pounds to be
A happy and productive Coleman could help stabilize a front line
that includes long-suffering small forward Clarence
Weatherspoon, who has already been cheered by the occasional
pick-and-roll Brown has designated for him to run off the bench
in the preseason. Because he is in the final year of his
contract, though, 'Spoon remains prime trade bait. Rookie Tim
Thomas, who has shown flashes of brilliance, will have a veteran
tutor in Terry Cummings, who was brought aboard more for his
wisdom than his productivity.
Iverson, too, will be asked to stop and listen to Cummings and
his helpful hints on surviving life under the NBA microscope.
Yet the Sixers will need more than just talk to cover their lack
of firepower in the middle. Center Eric Montross had a fine
rookie season in Boston but has been mediocre in two stops
since, and Michael Cage's best days are behind him.
That means the Sixers will again be a guard-oriented team. For
good or ill, Iverson has laced up his new sneakers and will
provide Philly with some answers.