A new answer for Philly's woes?

Originally Published: May 6, 2004
By Chad Ford | NBA Insider
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There was a point toward the end of the season when it appeared Allen Iverson had run out of answers.

Broken down, defiant and, for the first time in his career, downright lethargic, the Sixers' icon looked like toast.

GM Billy King had shopped him before the February trade deadline. When nothing materialized, Iverson began fighting with head coach Chris Ford. His shocking decision to sit out a game because Ford refused to place him in the starting lineup seemed like the final straw in a long, tumultuous love-hate affair between the Sixers and Iverson.

Iverson sells tickets. He dazzles, does things that most players in the league only can perform on a PlayStation. But could the Sixers ever really win with Iverson? With head coach and therapist Larry Brown gone, King began to legitimately wonder -- is there another coach in the league who can keep Iverson's head in the game?

When season ended, King met with Iverson and had a heart-to-heart. Most expected it to be a preliminary divorce hearing. Instead, King and Iverson emerged hand-in-hand, and King told reporters Iverson would remain a 76er next season.

"He said he wants to be a part of it," King said. "He's been here when it was bad, when it was good, to now when we're not in the playoffs. He says he loves it and doesn't expect to see himself ever playing for another team."

King then said he had no plans to trade Iverson. "My intention is, Allen will be on the roster."

To make sure things stayed that way, King quickly went about finding a replacement for Ford, who had tangled with Iverson too many times. Mo Cheeks, a close friend of Iverson's, was rumored to be the front-runner, but King pulled a stunning reversal and hired former Celtics head coach Jim O'Brien.

O'Brien is King's insurance policy. Iverson, who over the space of one year has killed three coaches -- Brown, Randy Ayers and now Ford -- won't be killing a fourth. At least not in Philly.

O'Brien said all the right things in his press conference. He said he wanted to coach Iverson. In fact, he insisted on it before he'd agree to join the Sixers.

"When you're dealing with somebody like Allen, I really wanted to be as close to 100 percent sure as I possibly could that I'd be coaching him," O'Brien said. "Billy obviously makes those decisions, but I wanted Billy to understand what I thought of Allen."

"He said to me, 'If I'm going to take this job, I want to have the chance to coach Allen Iverson,' " King said. "He said, 'I think he's one of the best offensive players, and an underrated defensive player. You don't get players like that, and I think I can win with him.' I don't think it was a [hiring] condition, but he made his point clear what he would like."

O'Brien appears, on paper, to be the perfect fit for the job. He'll ask his team to give its all on defense. In return, he'll let players do pretty much whatever they want on offense. Both roles should fit the Sixers. The team has a number of very capable defenders, including Iverson, Eric Snow and Samuel Dalembert. The team also has one very creative scorer who is at his best when he's improvising on the floor. After watching O'Brien let Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce jack up shots in Boston the past few years, the O'Brien-Iverson combo should be a match made in heaven.

Will O'Brien's presence be enough to get Iverson and the Sixers on the rebound? Here's a look at what to expect as Insider continues its summer blueprint series.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer