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The Strange Case of Allen Iverson

Iverson is a guy who a lot of people think is overrated. That, in turn, implies that a lot of people rate him quite highly. I wonder, though, if this is really the case. After all, no general managers anywhere seem interested in trading much of anything for him. The irony is that as his reputation has declined he seems to have . . . gotten better if you look at the stats. Indeed, Iverson seems to have had his two best seasons ever in 2005 and 2006.

July 28, 2006 | Permalink


Well, I think it's possible to rate the guy highly and still not want to trade too much for him. After all, there are several reasons apart from his abilities that would militate against trading for him: his contract, his reputation (putting aside whether it is deserved), his age, and that he seems to be a likely candidate for getting hurt.

I admit that I love Iverson. I attended almost all his home games his frosh year in college. I'd take him over Vince any day. But there are a lot of things attached to the gaudy stats that might scare GMs away.

Posted by: Al | Jul 28, 2006 3:27:32 PM

The short answer: (no pun originally intended, but gotta admit I like it now...)

Dude has a huge amount of money due on his contract, and his expiration date as an elite performer is rapidly approaching. Think about the reasons why Mark Cuban let Nash walk.

Plus, Billy King played the ultra-canny negotiating strategy of screaming to the world that he was desperate to trade Iverson, and then acted astounded when everyone pitched 30 cent on the dollar offers in the fire sale.

Posted by: Petey | Jul 28, 2006 4:00:14 PM

I think people are just trying to time the market. It never works, and someone (probably the Celts) is going to come away very sad.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jul 28, 2006 4:24:04 PM

Dude has a huge amount of money due on his contract, and his expiration date as an elite performer is rapidly approaching.

Okay, maybe, but look at the numbers -- I know he's old for a little guy, but he's improving his performance.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Jul 28, 2006 4:46:28 PM

Chris Broussard's take:

That said, those same execs and coaches who respect A.I. also know he's very hard to play with, very hard to handle off the court and very unlikely to make all but a handful of teams legitimate contenders.

So why trade for him, especially when he's 31 years old?


Fact is, any player who can create offense on his own is going to have a tough time playing with A.I. It's as simple as that.

John Salmons, whose offensive production increased dramatically when A.I. was out, pretty much admitted that when he signed with Sacramento the other day. When you can do something on your own, it gets frustrating watching A.I. dribble all over the place and take so many shots.

Really talented young players have their growth stunted with A.I. because they become relegated to role players, Andre Iguodala being Exhibit A.

Posted by: Al | Jul 28, 2006 5:47:47 PM

But isn't this the time in a star's career that they begin to badly want a championship? Isn't it conceivable that A.I. pulls an Isiah Thomas? Zeke being a noted gunner through his early career becasue the team stank, but then became a leader when the pieces fell into place. Iverson's team stinks so of course he guns, but is being a chucker really just in his DNA or a matter of circumstance?

Given his incredible talent (I knew it from his first G-town game against Nolan Richardson and the Hogs) I'd take the risk that it was just circumstance. But the risk taker obviously has to be a contender or you'll still get the gunner.

Posted by: keatssycamore | Jul 28, 2006 6:09:23 PM

Salmons is a major league head case, and Iguodala is progressing quite nicely.

Would Iguodala develop faster if he were taking 20 shots a game? Perhaps. But a team where Iguodala was taking 20 shots would lost 65 games.

Playing with a perimeter player who's a scoring champ is always going to present certain problems for the supporting cast, be that scoring champ Kobe, Jordan, or Iverson.


At the end of the day, the difficulty in moving has to do with the paucity of teams who could really make good use of him over the next year or two.

Boston makes excellent sense as a destination. I thought he'd be a perfect fit for Chicago before the Big Ben signing. He'd make sense with the Clippers. And there are several more like Denver and Indiana.

But I agree with Broussard to the extent that trading for Iverson doesn't make sense for most teams in the league. Philly isn't looking to just dump his contract - they want real prospects and/or picks in return. You're paying a future price for a brief return in the present, and that doesn't make sense for where most teams are currently positioned.

Posted by: Petey | Jul 28, 2006 6:25:08 PM

Ball hog.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Jul 28, 2006 6:49:47 PM

The long answer:

Circle A is comprised of the limited number of teams that could benefit enough from Iverson in the short-term to offset the fact that he's due $22m in 2009.

Circle B is comprised of the limited number of teams that have enough young talent and/or picks to satisfy the Sixers' demands while not giving away their entire future.

The intersection of Circle A and Circle B contains a surprisingly few number of teams, so the Iverson deal is hard to make.

For example, The Clippers are smack in the middle of Circle A, but Billy King has been demanding Shaun Livingston in return, so they aren't in Circle B.

Chicago, Boston, and Atlanta are smack in the middle of Circle B, but Chicago will be overpaying Ben Wallace in 2009, and Atlanta is prevented by court order (literally) from making an Iverson deal.


I think Circle A actually comprises a majority of teams in the league. Think of a team like Minnesota. They'd love to have Iverson, and he'd work well with their team. But what can they offer to the Sixers without leaving their future cupboard bare?

And therein lies the answer to The Strange Case of Allen Iverson: Circle B ends up being pretty small.

Factor in that not all teams in Circle B are in Circle A, along with Billy King's squirrel-like level of intellectual function, and this is a hard deal to get done.

Posted by: Petey | Jul 28, 2006 8:11:45 PM

I hate summer reruns.


Posted by: Royko | Jul 28, 2006 10:07:29 PM

and i, of course, want to seize this opportunity to express, once again, how much i hate the cap, since everyone is forced to sit around and think about all these externalities in deals rather than talent and assembling the best possible team on the floor.

Posted by: howard | Jul 28, 2006 11:22:30 PM

For example, The Clippers are smack in the middle of Circle A, but Billy King has been demanding Shaun Livingston in return, so they aren't in Circle B.

Is this really the issue? I don't care how good a prospect Livingston is, I'd make that deal in a minute if I were the Clips. Who else does Philly want? I feel Clips+Iverson is a championship team. You could get away with an Answer-Cassell back court in many situations, right?

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Jul 29, 2006 12:15:29 AM

"Is this really the issue?"

It was reported that way...

"Who else does Philly want?"

There's gotta be a big contract from LA to make it work under the cap. It'd almost definitely be Maggette, because the Sixers wouldn't want Mobley and because Maggette is seen as expendable by the Clips.

Who knows if the Sixers wanted pick(s) too.

"I don't care how good a prospect Livingston is, I'd make that deal in a minute if I were the Clips."

I definitely see the rationale for the Clippers to pull the trigger on this. If Iverson and, to a lesser degree, Cassell stay healthy, they really could play for the title. But I don't think it's that easy a decision to make.

The Clips seem to think Livingston is the second coming of Jesus Christ. And Bill Simmons seems to concur, FWIW. He's a 20 yo, 4th pick in the draft, 6' 7" legit point guard who could easily end up 1st team All-NBA.

It's a hard call to give up Livingston given Iverson's age/mileage issues. It really depends on your evaluation of Livingston, and I haven't watched enough Clips games to know the answer. If you think he's going to turn into Andre Miller - aka a solid, above average point guard - then you make the deal. But if you think he's likely to be the real deal - you're imagining him and Brand being the core of your team for the next 7 years - it'd be a hard call to pull the trigger.

Posted by: Petey | Jul 29, 2006 3:38:11 AM

It's the lack of an expendable prospect that makes the Clips problematic. The only real prospect they have to offer up to the Sixers is a hardcore blue chip prospect they're planning their future around.

On the other hand, a team like Boston, Chicago, or Atlanta could give up less lustrous prospects, make the Sixers very happy, and still keep the core of their future for the post-Iverson era.

It might make sense for the Clips to make the deal, but they can't have their cake and eat it too.

Posted by: Petey | Jul 29, 2006 3:53:20 AM

In the Bill Simmons Top 40, Iverson is #24 while Livingston is #27. So if Simmons were to be considered infallible like the Pope, then you'd do the deal from the Clippers' end.

Posted by: Petey | Jul 29, 2006 4:20:39 AM

I don't know if I'd trade Livingston for Iverson. The Clips are a contending team right now; I'm not sure there's a better roster in the NBA. Why take on the expense? ATL, OTOH, should have found a way to get it done.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jul 29, 2006 10:01:42 AM

The question with Iverson is whether he's coachable. With Wilt Chamberlain, at the other extreme, a coach could pick the shooting percentage he wanted Wilt to acheive and Wilt would do it: .506? Okay, that's 50 ppg. .727? Okay, that's 14 ppg. But could you tell Iverson that, because he now has better teammates, you want him to cut his scoring from 33 to 23 points per game and up his shooting percentage to .485? Would he do it?

It's the mirror image of the frustration people feel with Kevin Garnett -- the feeling that because his teammates are so bad, Garnett ought to up his scoring even though it would drive down his shooting percentage.

Posted by: Steve Sailer | Jul 29, 2006 6:46:31 PM

The sad fact of the matter for Iverson fans is:

a. he's a major head case
b. he's over paid
c. even in his best statistical years, he can't carry a team to the playoffs in the Eastern Conf.

The problem is not Billy King. The problem is Allen Iverson. Nobody wants him because he's a cancer that makes teams worse.

Posted by: Just Karl | Jul 29, 2006 10:19:49 PM

Um, Karl, he did carry a team to the NBA Finals, right?

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jul 29, 2006 10:33:37 PM

The mouth breathers enter, stage right.

Iverson always claims in interviews that half the world loves him and half the world hates him. It's an interesting bit of revelation of his self-mythology, but in recent years I've thought it was wrong - that everybody has come to appreciate the little guy these days. But maybe his outlook is correct.

I'll offer a voice for truth and do the apologia.


"The question with Iverson is whether he's coachable."

I really don't think this really is a question. He's never had any conflict, either in college or with the Sixers, in faithfully executing the coach's gameplan on court. He's had plenty of minor disciplinary dust-ups off court, but that's a different thing entirely.

He plays a very structured game, and has been demonstrated good adaptability when coaches have moved him from the '1' to the '2' and then back again.

"But could you tell Iverson that, because he now has better teammates, you want him to cut his scoring from 33 to 23 points per game and up his shooting percentage"

If you want Iverson to shoot less on a team with additional offensive weapons, I'd say that's probably a good idea. I'd especially want to see his minutes reduced - I think he'd be more effective at 38mpg than 43mpg. But I don't think his current shooting percentage is considered a problem by pretty much anyone due to his ability to get to the line. He actually is a ruthlessly efficient offensive performer at volume, which is why he'd be a valuable pickup.


"a. he's a major head case"

Yup. As are most of the great ones. I'd want him on my side in a war. His mind is in the right place on the court.

"b. he's over paid"

Currently, he's not. He was a legitimate $20m player last year, much like Paul Pierce. The real issue is whether or not he'll be overpaid over the rest of his contract.

He's probably not going to be worth $22m in 2009, much like Ben Wallace and Steve Nash are probably going to be overpaid in the final year of their contracts.

At the end of the day, his contract is pricey, but not outrageously so. A team will have to modestly overpay for the balance of his contract, but that's not always a bad bargain, depending on the team's situation.

"c. even in his best statistical years, he can't carry a team to the playoffs in the Eastern Conf."

Few players can carry a wreck of a team to or through the playoffs. Stick Michael Jordan in his prime on last year's Bobcats, and that's a team fighting for the last playoff spot.

"The problem is not Billy King. The problem is Allen Iverson. Nobody wants him because he's a cancer that makes teams worse."

Did I say mouth breather? I'm actually surprised you know how to breathe at all, Just Karl. I'd be worried about letting you outside when it's raining for fear you'd stare upwards and drown.

Do you think the Sixers would have been better last year without Iverson? Do you think the Celtics or Hawks or Bulls or Clippers or Nuggets wouldn't be better next year with a healthy Iverson?

Most teams aren't making a play for Iverson because of a combination of factors:

- It's hard and disruptive to move a contract that large.
- You have to modestly overpay the rest of his contract.
- The Sixers want value in return for a player near the end of his career.

It's the third factor that makes the deal really hard. If the Sixers were offering to dump Iverson's just to make cap room, asking for no value in return, I think a majority of teams in the league would be trying to put together a deal.

And Billy King is the problem in so many ways. Leave aside the mismatched and talent-light nature of the current Sixers roster - just think about how he's handled this summer's Iverson situation.

First of all, he manufactured an "incident" at the end of the season to try to shift blame for missing the playoffs squarely onto the shoulders of Iverson and Webber. It was a cowardly and sleazy maneuver, but let's ignore the ethics of the action, and just consider the bargaining aspects of trashing a player you're intending on putting on the market. Follow that up by further backing yourself into a corner with the press to create an impression you're desperate to get rid of Iverson at any price. Billy King is just the kind of guy people enjoy playing poker with.

Posted by: Petey | Jul 30, 2006 2:37:55 AM

Petey, much like a Bush supporter, you're so invested in your support for Iverson that you will justify his every action in order to validate your own identity. Nothing is ever his fault, it's the teammates, or the coach, or the GM. I understand and I won't pretend that I can change your mind, but bear with me while I try to point out the forrest.

Everyone knows Iverson is a thug. Claiming that half the world loves him is laughably over-generous. He is the poster child for the decline of the NBA over the last ten years. The reason that nobody in the Association wants him now is because they know exactly what they will be getting. They get a guy who gives them 30 pts a night but is a major fucking headache. He'll require special team rules; he'll trash-talk the coach to the media; he'll bring a posse everywhere he goes; he'll divide the locker room over petty grievences; he'll have off the court criminal issues. They know that what he won't do is share the ball, mentor young players, provide leadership, or do whatever it takes to win. And that's the bottom line. Every team in the NBA will overpay for a thug if they think he will help them win games. The fact that nobody wants Iverson, in spite of his stats, is the truest of all measures of his value.

Posted by: Just Karl | Jul 30, 2006 11:13:56 PM


run, forest, run!

Posted by: Just Karl | Jul 30, 2006 11:16:24 PM

I'm just a bystander in this (my appraisal of Iverson is about halfway between Petey's and Karl's), but Petey's winning on points. He's giving actual evidence for his claims, whereas Karl is telling us "everybody knows" he's right.

Anyway, most of the coaches Iverson has had love him.

Posted by: Steve | Jul 31, 2006 11:16:05 AM

Baron Davis makes $15 mil. a year. If that's fair, Iverson isn't overpaid. The Warriors should try to trade Davis and next year's pick for Iverson. If I were Philly, I might make that deal--Baron's an All-Star, Barron makes $12 mil. less over the length of the contracts than Iverson, and there's a good chance (particularly if the team doesn't change coaches) that the Warriors' pick will be a very high pick in a very deep draft.

But they've got to let Iverson go; I'm not crazy about the guy, but I'm starting to feel pity for him.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jul 31, 2006 11:23:46 AM

As a warriors fan, I say AMEN. Iverson over the Big Brickin' Bruin anyday. Iverson is a scoring machine with a talent for creating shots. BD is muscle-bound Huguenot with his team's heads on the block.

Posted by: Greg | Jul 31, 2006 1:50:34 PM

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