Posted Dec 15 2009 12:48PM
PHILADELPHIA -- At the press conference to announce Allen Iverson's return almost two weeks ago, Philadelphia 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski said that Iverson in a Sixers uniform would not be enough, by itself, to help the team's attendance.
He was right. The attendance boost that the Sixers got from the Iverson's return lasted exactly one night. While Philadelphians were happy to have their hero back, they weren't going to stick around to watch bad basketball. Last Monday's sellout was a nice "Welcome Back" party. Wednesday's 8,500 empty seats were an acknowledgement that this isn't 2001.
As one observer remarked as the Sixers played the Warriors in the fourth game of the new Iverson era, "These fans aren't dumb."
The Sixers are in a tricky spot. Elton Brand's hefty contract and the team's slipping attendance has put them in a "Win Now" situation. But they also have seven guys on their roster who are 25 years old and younger.
Are they focused on the present or the future? Or, with Iverson back on the roster, is this all about the past?
The youngest of the Sixers' young is 19-year-old Jrue Holiday, the point guard selected with the 17th pick last June who has shown promise in limited action. When point guard Louis Williams was lost in late November with a broken jaw -- he'll be out for eight weeks -- Holiday got the next five starts, averaging 28 minutes a game before suffering a mild strain of his right rotator cuff. His final start before he got hurt was his best. He scored 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting in 36 minutes.
With the arrival of the 34-year-old Iverson, Holiday was in danger of having his minutes slashed and his development curbed. But after three games with Iverson, the Sixers stood at 5-18, in a much deeper hole than the ones they had dug each of the last two years. Still, when Holiday returned to action on Friday, he played just eight minutes off the bench.
But Monday brought the smallball, road-weary Warriors to town and a good excuse to make a switch. Sixers coach Eddie Jordan moved Elton Brand back to the bench and teamed the Guard of Sixers Past with the Guard of Sixers Future. The result was Philly's first blowout win of the season. Iverson and Holiday were a plus-26 in 30 minutes on the court together, with Holiday picking up six assists and Iverson shooting an efficient 7-for-10.
Holiday, who was 6 years old when Iverson made his original debut with the Sixers, played a career-high 39 minutes.
"At halftime there was this little kid on the sideline wearing a Philadelphia 76ers Allen Iverson jersey," Holiday told NBA TV after the game. "I was like, 'Man, I used to have that jersey. The dude I'm playing with, I used to rock his jersey to school.'"
Jordan wouldn't confirm if he'll go with the same starters Wednesday against the Cavaliers. What worked against the Warriors is a lot less likely to work against Cleveland (and Boston, who the Sixers visit Friday). Still, the coach hinted that Holiday is "finding a home in the starting position."
The Iverson-Holiday backcourt makes sense. Iverson is trying to work off a month of rust, even more when you consider that he played just 67 minutes with Memphis in November. He's also dealing with a bad knee, which was drained on Sunday. He doesn't have his burst yet and, thus far, has been more effective playing off the ball in catch-and-shoot situations.
"Until my legs get to where I want them," he said, "I'll just take whatever the defense gives me."
With Williams out, Holiday gives the Sixers someone who can make plays off the dribble and get Iverson the open shots that he can't yet create for himself. Andre Iguodala, who was the other starting guard in Iverson's first three games back, is better suited to play the wing.
"With Allen and Jrue in the backcourt, it gives us solid, true guard play," Jordan said. "Andre gives us great defensive presence at any position, but to get real good guard play, it's good to have Jrue and Allen in there together to start.
"The concept is to get [Iguodala and Thaddeus Young] running the lane after a make or a miss. Just sprint the lane and let either of the guards push it. I like their decision-making, because they're solid play-making guards."
Of course, Brand's status now becomes more tenuous. He's not happy coming off the bench, and it's certainly a curious situation when your highest-paid player is riding the pine. But Brand was efficient Monday, scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds in less than 17 minutes of action. The move clearly strengthens a bench which has struggled recently (it was outscored 46-6 by the Rockets on Friday).
Are the Sixers going anywhere? Iguodala thinks they still have a run in them, and it's just a matter of "getting on the same page."
And Iverson believes his speed will eventually return. "I can feel it getting better and better out there. And that's the most important thing," he said. "As long as I take some steps forward, then I'm cool."
With Holiday in the backcourt with him, the Sixers can finally work toward the future while they wait for the past to catch up with the present.
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