Do you remember the summer of 2001? The NBA was struggling to find a post-Jordan identity, and Shaq and Kobe were happy to fill the void. Fresh off a 2000 title, the Lakers swept through the first three rounds of the playoffs to meet the Sixers in the NBA Finals.
The Sixers' path to the NBA Finals was considerably more difficult when compared to the Lakers. After a dogfight with the Pacers in the first round, they went the distance with the Raptors and Bucks in consecutive series that went to Game Seven, only to limp into the Finals on the back of Iverson in the midst of a classic MVP season.
The Lakers only needed five games to dispatch the severely overmatched Sixers, but winning the title was bittersweet. That Lakers team was the most dominant of the Shaq-Kobe era, and they had the chance to do something Jordan had never done by almost going undefeated in the playoffs.
In Game One of the 2001 NBA Finals, Allen Iverson and a scrappy Sixers team took one last stand. What transpired was one of the more memorable games in NBA history. It featured transcendent performances from Iverson and O’Neal, one overtime, and this.
The Lakers won the next four games and the championship with it, but that 76ers season will not be soon forgotten. Philly had role players, defensive specialists, hustle guys, and one very special superstar.
Sure, players like Aaron McKie, Eric Snow, and Dikembe Mutombo supplied some scoring, but “The Answer” took every big shot. The rest of the team could score, as long as they were in rhythm. When things broke down, when the shot clock neared zero, when games were won, Iverson always had the ball in his hands.
Fast forward seven years.
It’s the 2009 NBA offseason, and nobody wants Allen Iverson. He’s old, he’s lost a step, and he’s a cancer.
*Actually, Allen Iverson is a good teammate.
*In fact, Allen Iverson is a great teammate.
*Heck, Allen Iverson may just be the best teammate on the planet.
The asterisks refer to two rules concerning the management of Allen Iverson.
Rule No. 1:
Don’t talk about practice.
Rule No. 2:
Surround him with guys who care as much as he does.
Heart is an over-used term, but no other word does justice to the final product Iverson puts on the floor each night. You’ve all seen it; Allen drives through the lane, gets clobbered by somebody twice his weight, knocks down his two free throws, and never bats an eye.
You would have to snap the guy’s spine to keep him from playing. Allen Iverson wants to win, and all he asks is for the other four guys on the court with him to want that same thing just as much. If you can make that situation happen, then watch as the wins roll in. If not (see: Sixers, Nuggets, Pistons…), look out.
The 2000-01 Sixers were filled with role-players like Eric Snow, George Lynch, Tyrone Hill, Aaron McKie, and Dikembe Mutombo/Theo Ratliff. Snow spread the ball around, paced the team beautifully, and played good defense.
Lynch and Hill played tough front-line defense and hit the glass. McKie provided great defense and occasional scoring. Mutombo and Ratliff were both huge shot blockers.
Larry Brown preached defense and commanded respect from Iverson and the rest of his team. Get the idea? Defense, Defense, Defense, and let Allen take care of the rest.
Now look at a snapshot of the 2009-10 Rockets.
The Rockets clearly have the personnel to match the defensive success that the 2001 Sixers Finals team enjoyed. If Yao Ming comes back in time for the playoffs, they could even surpass it. Shane Battier’s defense gets more press than a Brett Favre comeback, but the rest of the Rockets (i.e. Carl Landry) are pretty tough as well.
On the offensive end, the Rockets would truly thrive with Iverson. Assuming Allen coming in would mean McGrady going out, there is not one player on the team who demands touches. Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, and Trevor Ariza all score in flow, and they all do it a lot more often than their 2001 Sixers counterparts.
The trend here is more offense. All these guys play hard and they play defense. What's even more impressive is they are able to do all that and add some offensive versatility on the other end as well. Iverson probably won’t ever regain his 2001 form, but he won’t have to.
With other guys taking off some of the load, he can stick to doing what he does best by taking and making big shots.
There shouldn’t be any questions surrounding head coach Rick Adelman. Former head coaches never had the impact that Adelman has shown as coach for the Rockets.
George Karl let himself get walked over, and Michael Curry was directionless. Iverson plays for guys he respects, ala Brown. If Adelman has anything, it is the respect of his players.
From Houston’s end, this will be a huge breath of fresh air after putting up with Tracy McGrady for five years. Finally, Houston will have a guard they can lean on in crunch time.
Finally, Houston will have a guard who wants to be leaned on in crunch time. Throughout his career, Allen Iverson hasn’t shied from taking the shot with the shot clock winding down. Not in the fourth quarter and not in the first.
Allen has one season, ahem, title run left in him. If he ends up with the Clippers or the Warriors, he will be destined to slowly fade away into obscurity.
If he signs on with the Rockets, he will have one last chance to get the ring he desperately craves.
“I still have yet to accomplish what I've been trying to do from Day One.”