In an attempt to make sure that's true, the Sixers acquired 6'7" forward Matt Harpring, along with forwards Robert (Tractor) Traylor and Cedric Henderson, from the Cavaliers during the off-season for forwards Tyrone Hill and Jumaine Jones. Philadelphia essentially replaced Hill, a solid rebounder and defender, with the offensive-minded Harpring, who is more likely to make defenses, zone or not, pay for being preoccupied with Iverson.
On the other hand Brown hasn't made drastic strategic changes to prepare Iverson to face zones. He is still preaching ball movement and player movement, and encouraging Iverson to trust his teammates to make the open shots that will inevitably come. Since Brown and Iverson rarely agree on anything (at least initially), it's no surprise that the coach is far more sanguine about the changes than his star. "I don't see it as a problem," says Brown. "It will help the fans because nobody in the stands really understood the illegal-defense rules anyway, and it will make it easier on the referees because they won't have so much to look for."
Another factor that could work to the Sixers' advantage is that defenders in a zone often don't rebound well, because they aren't always in position to box out their opponents when the shot goes up. With hardworking interior players like center Dikembe Mutombo and forward George Lynch, Philadelphia—a strong offensive rebounding team that often cashes in on Iverson's misses—could wind up with more than its share of second and third shots if teams play zone for long stretches.
"Triple-team Allen if you want," Brown says. "You'll have to give something up if you do that. Everything's a calculated risk. Do it and you'll open up more opportunities for other people, which in turn will make Allen more dangerous."
How Iverson fares against the new schemes designed to stop him will be as clear an indicator as any of whether the rules changes are having their desired effect. If teams playing zone repeatedly cut off his forays to the basket and turn him into little more than a passer and jump shooter, the rules committee that recommended the changes may reassess them at season's end. If, however, the specter of having to face a zone encourages teams to push the ball up the floor before defenses can set up, creating more of an open-court game, even Iverson and most of his fellow stars will be pleased.
Iverson hopes that the pace of the game will be even more to his liking, but he doesn't really expect it to happen. "I think it's going to take a lot of creativity from the game," he says. "I'm going to get into the lane, and four, five guys are going to be sitting there waiting for me. The game will turn into a bunch of guys shooting jump shots. You can't tell me that's what the fans want to see."
Still, the game could turn into something more fascinating than that. If the endlessly inventive Iverson has to find new ways to attack the kitchen-sink defenses that will be thrown at him, it will be well worth watching. The fans—and Iverson—may find that the sturdier the shackles, the more impressive the escape.