Across the seasons of the Philadelphia 76ers' slide into the NBA's sludge, the sobering truth about general manager Billy King's fitness for the job has exposed itself decision by decision, defeat by defeat. With his franchise in shambles and his leverage to move Allen Iverson crumbling, the countdown to a disastrous deal ticks loudly throughout the league.
There's a reason that the trade talks for Iverson have dragged for a full week now, longer than the Sixers ever wanted. The thing is, everyone else doesn't just want to steal Iverson out of Philly; they expected to do so.
Mostly, front offices think they can get over on King.
And why wouldn't they? With his owner, Ed Snider, King has cast the Sixers in the most vulnerable of positions to peddle Iverson. By banishing him last Friday, they've done nothing but make teams reluctant to offer the best possible packages for Iverson. King wanted a bidding war for Iverson. So far, it hasn't been close.
As it's turned out, these negotiations aren't about who's offered the most for Iverson, but who's offered the least embarrassing package.
"Philly may regret the way they did this," said one NBA executive who has made some trades in his career. "They have painted themselves into a corner unnecessarily. If they planned to trade him, why sit him down? I think that only diminishes his value."
That's a belief shared throughout the league. For some to dismiss the exiling of Iverson on the basis that it doesn't matter that the Sixers keep losing – nine straight games and 13 out of 14 – does nothing but enable the losing culture of the King regime. The franchise's credibility has been chipped away layer by layer these past several years, until now when it's been fully exposed for what it's become – the biggest joke in the league.
Try this today: Put every NBA G.M., coach and roster into a pool. Allow the rest of the owners to draft them. Tough to manage, but it's true that Philadelphia might be the one team that gets all three of those entities taken last.
Through the bad contracts and draft picks and trades, through the revolving door of coaches, King has remained blessed with an engaging, earnest disposition that's carried him within and outside his organization. He's a survivor. And make no mistake, he isn't alone among his peers. If Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were demanding trades in Minnesota and Boston now, Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge would be under this kind of scrutiny.
Still, King has a chance to make a last stand on this trade – bringing back expiring contracts, young players and draft picks – to fortify a bid to keep his job. And what comes with it but word that Larry Brown is holding his hand on the trade, serving as a "consultant" to the Sixers.
For goodness sakes, the biggest decision he'll ever make as Philadelphia G.M. and King decides to deliver the message that he isn't strong enough to make it on his own? Brown was responsible for hiring King with the 76ers, and now it looks like he's unsure what to do without him.
"What does he need Larry Brown for?" one league executive wondered Thursday night. "If you're the G.M., do the deal."
Denver has been in the middle of these negotiations from the beginning, trying to dump its overpaid and damaged good, Nene, on the Sixers. In the beginning, the Nuggets tried to package the likes of Julius Hodge with him. The longer trade talks drag on, the less inclined suitors like Denver will hang in and risk disruption of its locker room psyche.
The Sixers are believed to have been offered the ever-intriguing young Clippers guard Shaun Livingston over the summer for Iverson – with Corey Maggette – but King didn't go for it. They'll never get Livingston now. Part of that was ownership's reluctance to trade the franchise's most valued asset at a time when selling the team was a possibility.
Surely still, that wasn't the first chance King had to get maximum value for his superstar. Besides waiting too long to trade him, they decided to do it all wrong.
That's the reason, one league source says, the Pacers are determined to keep one foot in the talks with Philadelphia. Indiana executives Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird are insisting they want to grab Iverson if he's there to be stolen. That's where Billy King has backed himself into now, where salvaging his lost cause with Allen Iverson looks like one more losing proposition in Philly.