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Bye-bye, A.I. The 76ers would be wise to peddle Allen Iverson while his value is high

This dismal season in Philadelphia seems to have proved two
things: The 76ers have too many aging players signed to fat
contracts to quickly return to title contention, and 28-year-old
Allen Iverson cannot be the centerpiece of any long-term
rebuilding campaign, because his horrendous example as a practice
player would impede the development of young talent.

Does that mean the Sixers will trade Iverson? No, insists G.M.
Billy King, who plans to upgrade Iverson's supporting cast this
summer through trades, a high draft pick and the team's $5
million free-agent exception. He will also replace interim coach
Chris Ford; possible successors include Maurice Cheeks (if he can
get out of his deal with the Trail Blazers) and Mike Fratello,
whom King interviewed last summer.

But even if the new coach is able to restore the hard-won
discipline of the Larry Brown era, the Sixers still won't be good
enough to challenge for the Eastern title. That's why King should
trade Iverson this summer while his value is relatively high--and
before it becomes clear to the rest of the league that the 76ers
have no choice but to unload him.

Moving Iverson would be risky; the Sixers have a bad history of
trading stars. It took them years to recover from their 1992 swap
of Charles Barkley to Phoenix for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and
Andrew Lang. They also dealt Wilt Chamberlain, Chet Walker, the
No. 1 pick in 1986 (Brad Daugherty) and Moses Malone to
disastrous effect. Still, with the team's record having fallen to
25-38 at week's end, the talk radio demands to trade Iverson are
mounting in Philly. Despite his 27.0-point scoring average
(second in the league), AI was shooting a miserable 39.0% and has
utterly failed as a leader.

While some teammates continue to look past Iverson's late-night
partying and his lax practice habits, Glenn Robinson, Derrick
Coleman and Kenny Thomas have followed Iverson's example by
acting as if they too can do as they please. "We haven't worked
hard and executed like we have in the past," says point guard
Eric Snow. "The sense of urgency hasn't been there."

Iverson's behavior and the $91.4 million he's owed through
2008-09 (when, as a 33-year-old, he'll earn $22 million) lead
many to predict that it will be difficult to trade him. They're
wrong. Iverson still has many admirers around the league who
value his competitiveness. They believe that if he is asked to
fit in on a winning team--as opposed to the 76ers, who were
gathered to serve him--then he'll make the transition from
streaky gunner to unselfish point guard. "He wants to do whatever
it takes to win," says Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal, an Olympic
teammate last summer. "I love to play with him."

Others will covet Iverson for his drawing power. Could Hornets
owner George Shinn be persuaded to swap Baron Davis for a chance
at 41 sellouts? There's only one way to find out. By dangling
Iverson this summer, King may provide a happy ending to this
nightmarish season.

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLANA streaky shooter with bad practice habits, Iverson is tooerratic to build a team around.