Chris Webber’s colossal contract came to the Sixers with an unwritten but clearly understood warning:
Time is the enemy.
Progressive general manager Billy King’s purported blockbuster trade, consummated in the 11th hour with Allen Iverson approaching 30 and the Sixers fading toward a hybrid of the Doug Moe and Johnny Davis eras, has been a bust in the first month.
It’s too early in the adjustment process to assume the deal is a disaster, but in Iverson’s words you can hear the clock ticking – on his serious contending hopes, on the 32-year-old Webber, on embattled coach Jim O’Brien and on King. With the Sixers barely clinging to the last playoff spot, the trade chemistry has to start clicking.
“It has to happen right now,” Iverson said. “I’ve noticed improvement, but it has to happen right now. I can’t tell you that … we’ve got till next year to make it happen, because we don’t. I’ve got to believe that it’s gonna happen right now.”
After a string of misfits passed through as the Sixers’ second bananas, Iverson’s most accomplished ally ever – a five-time All-Star, a complete power forward with rare big-man passing ability and perimeter panache – may have arrived too late to provide a big lift. Webber’s bum knee history has robbed much of his athleticism, and with $62 million due him over the next three seasons, well, the Sixers and King may have one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel.
To plugged-in NBA people and infamously unforgiving Philly fans, it seems Webber has aged dramatically since he stepped off the plane from Sacramento. Maybe it’s the system. Maybe it’s the coach. Maybe it’s Webber’s knee.
Perhaps it’s all three. The first two you can change.
“He can’t go inside and score like he used to,” said an NBA executive. “Do I think it will work eventually? If he’s not really hurt, yeah. But $60 million, you can’t make that kind of mistake. If his knee’s OK, it’s a good trade. If it isn’t, it’s a horror show.
“If he gets close to 100 percent, he’ll absolutely help them,” said an Eastern Conference scout. “But he doesn’t look like he can move.”
Some scouts have their doubts about Iverson making this a strong marriage. It’s hard to knock a guy averaging a league-high 30.5 points and 7.7 assists, and further to doubt the sincerity of a guy who brings it every night and all but begged King to acquire Webber. But the turnstile of No. 2s who preceded Webber prompts critics to question whether The Answer can coexist with a true star.
A Western Conference scout who disliked the trade thinks Iverson could play with only two other superstars – Shaquille O’Neal and Jason Kidd. “He dribbles around too much, needs too many shots,” the scout said. “If I’m him, I’m taking 16-18 shots so I can get Webber more involved. But that’s not him.”
“When your point guard is shooting that many times, everybody else stands around,” said an Eastern Conference scout. “Allen’s a great talent, but he’s no point guard.”