The Detroit Pistons had much bigger goals in mind when they traded for the superstar just over a year ago.
Set to play his second game since returning to Philadelphia, Iverson looks to help the 76ers avoid losing their 11th in a row Wednesday night against a Pistons team that acquired the 10-time All-Star last season hoping he could lead it to a championship.
After announcing his intention to retire two weeks ago following a brief stint with Memphis, Iverson decided to accept the veteran’s minimum salary to return to the team that selected him with the first overall pick in the 1996 draft.
In his first 10 seasons with Philadelphia, Iverson posted the highest scoring average in team history (28.1), was second on the points list (19,583) and holds the record for 3-pointers (877). He was named league MVP en route to leading the Sixers to the NBA finals in 2001.
Philadelphia (5-16) doesn’t have the same playoff aspirations this season.
With the third-worst record in the league, Philadelphia needed to create some sort of buzz. The Sixers were 29th in attendance in their first eight games with an average of 11,965 fans, but noticed a considerable spike in Iverson’s season debut.
In front of a sellout crowd of 20,664, Iverson finished with 11 points on 4 of 11 shooting in 38 minutes in Monday’s 93-83 loss to Denver. He was welcomed with a video tribute and the crowd roared in approval when Iverson was introduced and planted a kiss on the centercourt logo.
Despite all the hoopla, Iverson’s rousing return did little to mask the fact that the Sixers are playing poorly. Philadelphia, which lost in Detroit 88-81 on Nov. 8, is trying to avoid dropping 11 in a row for the first time since Nov. 14-Dec. 5, 1995, the year before Iverson’s rookie season.
“I haven’t been here long enough to put a finger on one or two things (wrong),” Iverson said. “Tonight, with the way the guys competed, I don’t know how they lost nine games in a row. I couldn’t see it, not from the team I was playing with. We’ll get it together, believe me.”
This situation is vastly different than what Iverson entered when he joined the Pistons a year ago.
Detroit acquired Iverson from Denver on Nov. 3, 2008, hoping the former scoring champ could lead it to a championship after three straight conference finals exits.
“We think he is going to fit with exactly what we stand for here,” president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said after the trade. “It’s all about winning and being in the big dance at the end of the year.”
Iverson and the Pistons fell well short of those goals.
Iverson averaged 17.5 points and Detroit went 24-30 in the games he played. He missed 23 of the last 26 regular-season games with back problems, and the Pistons were swept by top-seeded Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs.
Things haven’t been much better for the Pistons (8-12) this year, although they’re showing signs of turning things around.
Detroit is coming off Sunday’s 98-94 win over Washington, its third victory in four games following a seven-game skid.
Rodney Stuckey(notes) scored a team-high 25 with Ben Gordon(notes) being slowed by a sprained left ankle. Gordon, who finished with five points in 12 minutes, had a game-high 23 points against the Sixers last month.