God Chose Memphis?
Why does Allen Iverson's announcement that he is headed to Memphis make you feel like his career is already over? Is it because you already know that the elusive championship that he always talked about but never won in Philadelphia and later Denver and Detroit is completely out of his grasp? Is it because the situation with the Grizzlies already looks like a hopeless disaster?
I'll admit, I'm happy that Iverson, the former Georgetown star, was able to find employment. But I'm incredibly disappointed that he will likely have to rot in Graceland. Mike Wilbon spelled out the potential problems with Iverson joining a ball-hogging trio in Zach Randolph, O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay (who will be a restricted free agent next summer and is playing for a contract). Mike Conley has to be the most worried man in Memphis right now. Try pleasing all four of those dudes. If "God Chose Memphis" for Iverson, as he wrote on his Twitter page, Conley is probably asking, "God, why?"
I won't waste your time breaking down why that situation looks terrible. I just wish that Iverson's first dabble with the free agent market had been much more satisfying for him -- and basketball fans. He gets $3.5 million to play in Memphis, which means that Iverson will make his debut in a Grizzlies' uniform against the Washington Wizards in the exhibition opener on Oct. 6 in Richmond. Think that game will have any trouble selling out?
The Grizzlies will draw attention, mostly from people who want to see how badly that thing will play out. Iverson flirted with the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat, but there are so many other scenarios that would've been much more appealing than Memphis. I was rooting for a reunion with Larry Brown in Charlotte. It would've been the perfect opportunity for Iverson to reconcile with the only pro coach who understood what it would take for Iverson to be great; the same coach who abandoned Iverson in his prime. But the Bobcats appear to be in limbo with Bob Johnson looking to sell the team. I would've liked to see him in New York, where the Knicks have been seriously lacking in star power for most of this decade. The nightlife may have engulfed Iverson, but it would've been fun to see him light it up with Mike D'Antoni's offense.
More than anything, it would've been nice for Iverson to join an actual contender. Since it appears that he is now willing to come off the bench in Memphis, why wasn't he more open to playing that role for a better team that could've used some explosive firepower from the second unit? Most contenders were probably scared off by his aversion to practice, his inability to accept that he can no longer carry a team (the great ones usually are the last to find out) and because of how poorly things ended for him in Detroit, where he made it known that he'd rather retire than come off the bench and couldn't finish out the season because of a (wink, wink) back injury.
But the situation in Detroit was not ideal for Iverson. First, he got traded for the team leader and best friend of almost every player in that Pistons locker room (Chauncey Billups). Second, Iverson has played a certain way his entire career ("clear out; I'll save you by going one-on-five") and wasn't going to blend well with players accustomed to playing the exact opposite way ("let's share the ball guys; five as one"). Third, it was up to an overmatched rookie coach to figure out how to put it altogether -- with no training camp. And, finally, the Pistons didn't even wait for Iverson to arrive in Detroit before they talked about the cap space that his $21 million expiring contract was going to provide the team in the summer.
An all-time great reduced to salary cap relief?
This doesn't excuse how Iverson behaved in Detroit -- he was wrong for skipping practice last Thanksgiving and he never made the sacrifices that he promised he would in order to make it work. But given the circumstances, it would have been difficult for a player of his stature (in Iverson's mind, at least) to thrive.
Now he has to revive his reputation and his career with one of the worst franchises in the history of professional sports. Even before Iverson's season ended with him sulking his way off of a playoff team, I spoke with an Eastern Conference general manager about Iverson's prospects in free agency. The GM told me that it didn't look good for Iverson. When I asked if Iverson would have to settle for the mid-level exception, the GM said, "You think he'll get that much?"
I was kind of stunned, because I assumed that the NBA average salary would be the starting point of negotiations. Then the GM said, "You're not just paying for Iverson, you're paying for all of his [cow patty]."
At that point, I realized that Iverson was going to have a difficult summer. Former Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Billy King, who worked with Iverson for 10 years and traded him to Denver, didn't help Iverson any when he eviscerated the 34-year-old star in the Charlotte Observer a few weeks ago, calling him self-absorbed and stubborn. Ouch. The success of Denver with Billups and Philadelphia with Andre Miller merely sent home the message that teams don't need Iverson to win games.
Even still, it's amazing to me that a player with his Hall of Fame resumé could go this long without finding a job. The man with the fifth-highest scoring average in NBA history at 27.1 points; the man with four scoring titles and one league's most valuable player award; the man who averaged 26.4 points just two seasons ago was treated like a 6-foot bottle of leprosy. You'd think he was coming back from a Leavenworth prison for running an illegal gambling and dogfighting ring -- except Michael Vick didn't have to wait that long to find employment in the NFL.
Iverson's services will likely be wasted on a team headed nowhere; a lousy team that brought him to town because they draw fewer fans per night than the average Beale Street bar. But while Iverson is considered a box office attraction, his ability to bring in floods of people has diminished over the years. Philadelphia's attendance dipped as his one-man show grew stale, and Detroit's string of 259 consecutive sellouts ended with him wearing a Pistons uniform.
So what is he really there for?
To reach 25,000 career points (he's about 1100 points shy)? To play well enough that some contender makes a trade for him at the deadline? It would be easy to assume that he'll be on his best behavior as a one-year rental, but he was in a similar situation on a better team last season and that couldn't have ended much worse.
I have never heard anyone say that Iverson is capable of mentoring anyone. I don't see how Mayo, Conley or Gay will benefit from his presence. It's a shame that someone who had such a stellar career has to go out like this. You could blame the economy but he really doesn't have anyone to blame but himself. Iverson had to take what he could get.
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