Most Valuable Player? Allen Iverson might not even be the slam-dunk answer
in the Most Valuable Sixer sweepstakes.
Coach of the Year? Larry Brown definitely needed a boost before thrusting
little Allen into prime position for a transformation.
In both of those hardware quests, Matt Geiger has to figure in somewhere.
Can't talk about Iverson and Brown, can't dissect how they brought love and
brotherhood to Philadelphia, without bringing up Geiger. No joke, folks:
Geiger counts as an instrumental third party in the Iverson/Brown dynamic,
injuries and suspensions aside, just for what he did prior to this
Geiger, remember, refused to waive the $1.2 million annual trade kicker for
the final four seasons of his six-year, $47 million contact.
And that stance was high among the sparks that imploded one of the most
complex swaps in NBA history -- a four-teamer discussed in July and August
that would have landed Geiger and Iverson in Detroit, weeks in advance of
the fall's first Larry lecture.
We'd like to think that Brown and boss Pat Croce would have ultimately
scuttled the deal no matter what, with or without the Geiger factor. That
they were simply trying to scare Iverson into the compliance he has
unexpectedly maintained all season, just as with those rumors of a
banishment to the Clippers.
Except that this was a very real deal. In its most well-known incarnation:
Eddie Jones, Glen Rice, Jerome Williams and Dale Ellis were Philly-bound;
Iverson and Geiger headed to Detroit; Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner
and Travis Knight routed to Charlotte; and Anthony Mason, Toni Kukoc and
Todd Fuller dispatched to the LA Lakers.
As Croce himself told ESPN The Magazine's Tom Friend: "It came close,
brother, it came close."
As close, you might say, as the shaved scalp Geiger sports. Which makes No.
52 a Pretty Valuable Sixer, if not quite the MVS, for his role in helping to
prevent Iverson's departure.
Max Still Mad
No less a Larry detractor than Vernon Maxwell thinks The Relationship can
work. Maxwell believes his good buddy Iverson can co-exist with Coach Brown
all the way to the NBA Finals.
The Iverson-Brown marriage?
"It's a lot better than it was," Maxwell says. "They can get along just
enough to do their jobs. They'll be fine."
Maxwell made those assertions Saturday, after debuting for his new team in
Dallas. Made them even though Mad Max freely admits that being waived by
Brown just before Christmas continues to steam him, three months later.
Iverson remains bothered by it, too according to Max.
"He was upset because we grew to be real good friends," Maxwell said. "And
he felt they should have come to him first, because he's supposed to be the
franchise player, but they didn't.
"We had our agreement -- keep your nose clean and you'll play," Max
continued. "I still got stiffed. When I got released it made me look like,
'What did he do now?' I haven't done anything."
The Sixers will almost certainly open the playoffs against either Indiana or
Boston, and you can guess who they're privately rooting for. The Pacers have
eliminated Philadelphia the past two springs. The Celtics, meanwhile, are a
two-man team for whom simply reaching the first round would be the
Or, rather, the season's second most significant accomplishment. Foremost on
the praiseworthy list is Paul Pierce, who has amazingly ranked among the
league's top 10 scoring leaders all season, even after nearly losing his
life in that stabbing incident a week before training camp.
Adding to the bravery is the revelation from interim Celtics coach Jim
O'Brien, on a recent swing through Dallas, that Pierce has maintained his
scoring standards without a single upper-body workout. Which is why O'Brien
is so excited about next season, assuming that he still has the job, when
Pierce can resume sculpting the physique he worked so hard on last summer.
"He has not been able to lift because of the scar tissue," O'Brien said.
"What he's doing right now, I think, is remarkable. When he comes back,
he'll be a more physical Paul Pierce, one of the superstars of this league."
Said Pierce, simply: "I think it's past me."
Around The League
Reports that the Grizzlies have narrowed their relocation options to
Anaheim and New Orleans are a tad premature, especially considering that
Grizz owner Michael Heisley continues to cling to Las Vegas as his preferred
destination. Vegas has been his No. 1 target from the start, with Heisley
hoping to move the team into a town that has no other pro sports franchise,
thereby creating a Sacramento Kings effect.
Sin City, of course, has a history of rabid support for the Runnin' Rebels,
and there aren't many players around the league who'd protest the location.
But until casinos agree to outlaw NBA betting -- and the most recent
estimates had them generating $12 million annually on Association action --
commissioner David Stern won't even consider bringing the proposal before
the league's Board of Governors. And it's a long shot to suggest that Las
Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman will be able to secure the needed cooperation from
the gaming industry by Vancouver's extended March 26 deadline.
The other options -- Anaheim, New Orleans, Louisville, Memphis -- all have
their own sizable warts, but the Grizzlies have to act fast to avoid a
lameduck season in British Columbia that would undoubtedly be more grisly
than ever. Arena dates for each NBA season are typically cemented in March,
so Heisley might have to plump for the city that offers the smoothest
Why would Stern allow the Grizz to go to Disneyland, putting three teams
within an hour of each other? It could be punishment, so goes one theory,
for Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling, who has steadfastly resisted the
league's repeated urgings that he move HIS franchise to Anaheim.
Vancouver, with its strong Asian population, has been frequently
mentioned as the ideal destination for Yao Ming, the 7-6 center from China
who's regarded as the likely No. 1 overall pick in June. Without Vancouver,
it's unclear which of the high lottery teams will be most interested in Yao.
Especially considering that national-team obligations back home could force
Yao to miss training camp and the first month of his rookie season. The good
news: Yao, by all accounts, has all but secured permission from Shanghai
authorities to declare in time for this June's proceedings in New York.
Marc Stein, who covers the NBA for The Dallas Morning News, is a regular
contributor to ESPN.com.