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Talk is cheap, unlike the asking price

There’s an old story about actor John Garfield, whose death at 39 set off days of tabloid frenzy in New York. Finally after all the obvious angles were gone, one of the papers had a conference to see what it could possibly find to do.

“I got it!” someone is supposed to have said. “Banner headline: ‘John Garfield Still Dead.’ ”

In that vein, The Times has learned that Allen Iverson is still a 76er.

Nevertheless, it can’t be much longer. The 76ers kept backing themselves deeper into their corner, cleaning out Iverson’s locker, taking down his nameplate and cutting his highlights out of their pregame show.

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Now it’s not only a fire sale, they can’t take him back even if they don’t like the offers -- and they don’t, or they would have accepted one of the dozen on the table.

Not that fans needed a reminder of what they lost. Whatever his practice habits, whatever grief he gave Coach Mo Cheeks (and all the others including Larry Brown), Iverson was the 76ers’ beating heart. Last week’s eighth and ninth losses in a row (the streak is now 11, six without A.I.), drew their two smallest crowds, dropping them to No. 26 in the league in attendance.

Forging bravely ahead, the 76ers negotiated. And negotiated. And negotiated.

A week later they were still talking. That ended speculation that defrocking him didn’t necessarily mean they were amateurs because they already had a deal worked out.

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This just in: They’re amateurs.

I’m just one man and I’ve got to do the work of the 12 whom some news organizations have throwing names around, so here goes.

The Times has learned Iverson will go to Denver, Minnesota, the Clippers or Boston for Andre Miller, Randy Foye, Corey Maggette or Jamal Tinsley, a No. 1 pick and expiring contracts.

Making it harder to hack your way through the “reports,” lots of papers are using the new terminology that gives a meaningless description of the source and his presumed motivation.

Instead of attributing a story to “a source,” it’s “a person with knowledge of the 76ers’ inner workings, speaking anonymously because he can’t bear the thought of causing team President Billy King any more pain.”

The Times learned from a source with inner knowledge of all things, speaking anonymously so he can take a wild guess while sparing himself embarrassment, that Denver is the front-runner.

The 76ers asked for Marcus Camby but were offered Nene, whom everyone is leery of, averaging 15 minutes with his new six-year, $60-million deal.

The Nuggets are trying to move Nene to a third team for someone the 76ers want. Amid suspicions hasn’t fully recovered from knee surgery, scouts even muse about having him work out for interested teams like a prospect at the Chicago pre-draft camp.

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The most anyone can actually do is have a doctor X-ray Nene’s knee and ask him if he feels OK. That being the case, expect him to remain in Denver.

Nevertheless, a deal still could be done for J.R. Smith, Andre Miller, Joe Smith’s expiring $6.8-million contract and the Nuggets’ two No. 1 picks.

The 76ers like Minnesota’s Foye but don’t want Ricky Davis (making an average of $6.5 million through 2008), Mark Blount ($8.2 million through 2010), Marko Jaric ($6.6 million through 2011) or Troy Hudson ($6 million through 2010). The Timberwolves are now looking for a third team that would take one of them.

The Clippers are still clawing at the door. Everyone knows Maggette is out of here, including Maggette, but they don’t want to give up Shaun Livingston.

(I love the idea of getting Iverson but not for Livingston, who’s still a big-time prospect even if he didn’t make a seamless transition into the starting lineup. The day Iverson, 31, comes for Livingston, 21, the Clippers go from young to old.)

It’s obvious you can’t believe anything with the word “reportedly” anywhere near it. That leaves actual on-the-record comments, which don’t mean anything, either.

Denver Coach George Karl said his team wasn’t interested, nominating Minnesota as the front-runner.

Guess whose name popped up as the front-runner within days?

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Minnesota owner Glen Taylor said “money-wise it wouldn’t work out.” Then Kevin Garnett jumped up and down and someone pointed out Taylor would be dumping $15 million worth of players while taking Iverson’s $17.2 million.

A few days later, Taylor, looking over the empty seats in the Target Center -- the Timberwolves are No. 23 in attendance -- mused, “You have to win to draw.”

Look at it this way: If Garnett was already upset at not getting any help, how would he feel if they can’t get Iverson after he says he wants to be there?

Most unfortunate of all was ESPN’s intrepid Jim Gray, who called Iverson’s cellphone, reported what he was told, then got a call from Iverson’s agent saying that wasn’t Allen.

By now it should also be obvious this story is a killer so I’m just going to hide under my desk until it’s over.

In a nice touch, the league reported that Iverson was the East’s second-leading vote-getter in All-Star balloting. Wouldn’t it be great if he’s still there and they have to let him play representing the 76ers?

Look for the 76ers to redouble their efforts to move him as soon as the ultimate nightmare scenario occurs to them.

mark.heisler@latimes.com


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