Shocker of the year in the NBA: The Philadelphia 76ers are going to fire their coach, and it wasn’t Allen Iverson’s fault.
Well, not directly, anyway. More on that later.
With pressure building on Eddie Jordan and the man who hired him, Ed Stefanski, the Sixers are right back where they were when they traded Iverson to Denver three years ago: No superstar, no drawing power, no interest and little hope of divesting themselves of numerous cap-strangling contracts.
Then again, what else is new?
Here’s what you need to know about the latest sideshow that is unfolding in Philly: The most likely scenario, according to a person involved in the decision-making process, is that Jordan is gone after the season and Stefanski stays. Does that make sense? Well, sort of, but that’s not really the point.
The point is, as one rival general manager put it to me recently: “There are only two things you can sell. Success and hope.” With rare exceptions, the Sixers have been selling a steady diet of the latter to their success-starved fan base – a fan base that would show up and make Philly one of the NBA’s prized markets again if given sufficient reason.
Here’s what completely sabotaged what almost certainly will be Jordan’s lone season in Philly: The team hired a coach whose intricate offensive system required experienced, unselfish guard play. A month later, the team made no effort to re-sign the only experienced, ball-moving guard on the roster. Andre Miller signed a rather modest three-year, $21 million deal with Portland – modest, because the third year is completely non-guaranteed. Even with Miller’s differences with coach Nate McMillan, the Blazers are in the hunt for a playoff spot despite a litany of injuries. The Sixers are in the hunt for another lottery pick, and soon will be in the market for another coach. One person familiar with the situation described Jordan’s dismissal after the season as “virtually a slam dunk.”
In other words, the Sixers will be selling hope again. Step right up and renew your season tickets so you don’t miss a minute of the Mike Dunleavy/Larry Brown/Avery Johnson/Fill-In-The-Blank Era.
I don’t pin the Miller decision on Stefanski or Jordan any more than I blame them for another ill-fated personnel move that reeked of owner interference: The shortsighted reunion with Iverson, who might have been the player in the league least likely to embrace Jordan’s Princeton offense. You knew this wouldn’t end well when Iverson strolled into the Sixers’ locker room barely an hour before his debut back in December. Within three months, beset by arthritis, ineffectiveness, and a laundry list of personal problems, Iverson was gone. Barring an unforeseen reversal, Jordan will be next.
Something else of note: While Comcast’s Peter Luukko has soared up the Sixers’ hierarchy, it would be a mistake to assume that chairman Ed Snider is no longer calling the shots. This quagmire belongs on Snider’s resume, and now it is up to him to fix it. And by that, I don’t mean repackaging it with a new coach and trying to pass it off on Sixers fans as hope. They’ve been down that road too many times already.
So with that, here are the rest of this week’s Post-Ups:
• The Nets held an elaborate ground-breaking ceremony Thursday on the site of their new arena in Brooklyn. If not for the legal and political delays than forced the team to commit to playing in Newark, N.J., for the next two seasons, it would’ve gone over as an enormous threat to the Knicks on New York City turf. But consider this: With all-powerful Williams “World Wide Wes” Wesley preparing to become an agent representing college and NBA coaches, how will his influence affect the free-agent domino effect on July 1? The agency Wesley is joining, Creative Artists, already represents LeBron James – not to mention Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, whose agent, Henry Thomas, also has joined CAA. Depending on which super-agent lands John Wall, CAA could control the top three free agents, the presumed No. 1 pick, and various coaches who might view a team with Wall, a max free agent, a deep-pocketed owner (Mikhail Prokhorov) and bright future in Brooklyn as an irresistible lure.
• One of the many things I don’t understand is criticism being leveled against Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni for failing to win in his first two years as the Knicks’ coach. If you could use genetic engineering and create a coach who was a combination of Jeff Van Gundy, Pat Riley and Red Holzman, that coach wouldn’t have been able to win with this roster, either. Someone kindly indulge me as to what D’Antoni could be doing differently with a team that has been purposely and effectively gutted for free agency.
• For good reason, Larry Brown’s name has been linked to the Sixers. His roots are in Philadelphia, and as recently as a few weeks ago there were strong indications that Next Town Brown was sniffing around to see if he could arrange a return engagement. But with Michael Jordan’s ownership bid for the Bobcats expected to receive swift approval – an ownership committee performed the perfunctory interview with His Airness this week in New York – it is believed that Brown’s loyalty to Jordan will trump his wanderlust.
• LeBron, Wade and Bosh aren’t the only intriguing potential free agents on the market this summer. Another one is reigning executive of the year Mark Warkentien. According to sources, Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke has made no efforts to negotiate an extension for Warkentien, whose contract runs out after this season. Three situations bear watching if the Nuggets make the ill-fated decision to let Wark walk: The Knicks, Clippers, and Pacers. Although the Clippers have a bright young executive in Neil Olshey taking over for Mike Dunleavy, Olshey would benefit from an experienced hand to help him navigate a crucial time for the franchise. Despite the well documented negatives of working for Sterling, running the Clippers actually is an extremely attractive job. They’re in the league’s second-biggest market, have a talented roster, and the cap space to lure a premier free agent. The Knicks? Warkentien and Donnie Walsh are buddies, too, and according to sources, Walsh finally has the go-ahead to hire a No. 2 basketball man and heir apparent now that the spinoff of Madison Square Garden from parent company Cablevision has been completed. In fact, if Walsh doesn’t hire Warkentien, it is believed that he’d recommend that Pacers owner Herb Simon do it. The Pacers are badly in need of someone with Warkentien’s shrewd eye for talent and negotiating skills as they try not to waste the prime of Danny Granger’s career.