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BOB RYAN

One-way street in Philly

Iverson comes with 'yield' signs

Searching for that special something for the NBA GM in your life? Just in time for Christmas, how about a 31-year-old guard in possession of a game with a mind of its own? And it will only cost you $18 mill, per annum, to gain possession. You'd owe him $40 million, give or take a diamond earring, through 2008-09.

Barring a rather major change in viewpoint on the part of his team owner, four-time scoring champ (who once again leads the league, even as we speak), three-time All-NBA first-teamer, once-upon-a-time MVP, and seven-time All-Star Allen Iverson has played his last game for the Philadelphia 76ers. He exists in a curious hoop limbo, available (he says) to play, but not welcome in uniform. He's not suspended. He's just another nightly "inactive." He's simply not wanted.

Don't the 76ers miss him, you say? Well, as a GM once said to slugger Ralph Kiner, "We can finish last with or without you." As shocking as this may sound, the Sixers have even less chance of accomplishing something tangible this season than your Celtics.

Trading expensive veterans always presents difficulty, but some cases are more complicated than others, and Iverson is in the top 10th of 1 percentile of the most involved cases. He is a walking "yeah, but."

A case can be made that he is the most gifted 6-footish player who has ever lived. He maxes out on sheer athleticism, for openers, and he outmaxes the maxing out in both competitiveness and toughness. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he has played more games that no one else could possibly have played than any player in the history of the game. Allen Iverson is Brett Favre's alter ego.

So what's the problem? Or problems? When you boil it all down, there really are only two: 1. He thinks Paul Anka wrote "My Way" for him, not Sinatra. 2. He's not exactly easy to play with.

Basketball is a delicate proposition. Virtuosos are not easy to accommodate, and there is no greater example than Michael Jordan. I think we'd all agree he had more raw talent than anyone in the history of the game. But it was only when Michael was able to calibrate his on-court relationship with the other four players (or 11, actually) that he was able to play on a championship team.

Having too much talent can be a curse. It tends to work out better if I have some, you have some, the other guys have some, and we all dedicate ourselves to blending our talents while leaving, as they say, our egos at the door. The most useful players are those who can either complement or highlight the other talented players. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. And, of course, Michael Jordan.

The great fallacy surrounding Jordan is that he didn't have the requisite complementary players before 1991. Balderdash. He had enough surrounding talent to have won two or three years previously. He just didn't know how.

When one can get off a shot anytime one wishes and when one can (or thinks he can) dribble through entire teams, and one can pretty much pull off any athletic feat one wishes during the course of a basketball game, one all too often arrives at the conclusion that one should, in fact, act on one's impulses at any given point in time. Team dynamics be damned.

What is the recurrent story of Allen Iverson's NBA career? Simple. It's the ongoing attempt of general managers and coaches to find players who might be compatible with him. From this search, we've learned one thing, if nothing else. It doesn't have to be especially high-level players. Modest talents will do. The apparent trick is to hope Allen will accept and respect them.

Here's a quiz for you: Name the rest of the starting five when the 76ers went to the Finals in 2001.

OK, some of you got Dikembe Mutombo, but after that, you're doing the Ralph Kramden homina-homina, right?

The forwards were Tyrone Hill and Jumaine Jones (you'll win bar bets for the rest of your life with that one). The other guard was Aaron McKie. The most important subs were Eric Snow and Raja Bell. Mutombo has made a name for himself, but the most you can say for the rest is that they were solid pros.

They won Game 1 against the Lakers. Iverson had 48. He also had 23, 35, 35, and 37 in the losses. But the fewest shots he took in a game was 29. You can argue that the Sixers were nothing without Iverson or you can argue that the ensemble could have worked a little better had he shared the ball a little more. What we know is that it was the one Iverson team to accomplish anything substantial, and we can also argue that he has played on supposedly more talented teams that did not do as well, for whatever reason. Anyone picking up Iverson should study the 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers.

Ten-plus years into his career, there is little evidence to suggest that Iverson is coachable. Ah yes, coaches. I'd pay serious cash money to attend a meeting of the Allen Iverson Alumni Coaches Association. I'd like to hear them talk about how difficult it is to create a team atmosphere when the most gifted player is openly disdainful of practice. (This is, of course, in direct contrast to the methodology of Messrs. Bird, Johnson, and Jordan, who valued practice to the point of worship.) There is also the matter of wondering about what Allen is doing in his free time (hint: he's not attending "The Nutcracker").

He's 31, and he isn't going to change, for anyone, ever. He is going to play his game and live his life, and he is not to be questioned about either. Now you ask yourself why Danny Ainge would even think about importing him into his mix. Yes, the Celtics need a veteran, but Allen Iverson?

Can you really see him, shall we say, "meshing" with Captain Paul? Impressionable fans have always loved Iverson for his virtuoso skills, as well as that celebrated toughness, but he remains very much an acquired taste for many others, who prefer their stars to be a bit more cognizant of the team's other members.

Anyway, he's available. The Sixers want your Christmas to be merry, Mr. GM, and they'll throw in a copy of "My Way" as a bonus. Such a deal.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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