By Michael Wilbon
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I don't believe for a second we've seen the last of Allen Iverson. He may contemplate retirement. He might remain on this mysterious personal leave for a while. But Iverson, even though he has more mileage on him than a soccer mom's 1990 Volvo wagon and all the dents as well, has plenty of basketball left in him. Surely, the last line on his hoops résumé isn't going to be three games played for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Iverson-in-Memphis was terribly misguided from the time it was conceived, as was his statement the day he signed, "God chose Memphis as the place that I will continue my career." Iverson, not God, made that mistake. He should never have signed with the Grizzlies, though Iverson seemed to be the only person not to know that the club's owner, Michael Heisley, has no plan to spend money, no plan to actually contend for anything meaningful in the NBA.
Somehow Iverson got it in his head that Memphis was the place for him, even though the team already had Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and O.J. Mayo, all of whom need shots and will do whatever necessary to jack them up. The news that Iverson is unhappy in Memphis, hates the notion that he should start games on the bench, and now reportedly considering retirement is hardly surprising -- though I must say it's a little surprising to hear Iverson tell reporters, as he did Friday, that he has not talked to Coach Lionel Hollins about his role on the team.
"We've never talked to each other," Iverson said. "We've never even had a conversation."
So now, Iverson is reportedly tending to non-basketball-related "personal" issues and is simply gone from a team he never should have signed with in the first place. Meanwhile, the guessing game is on as to where Iverson will wind up, because it certainly can't be Memphis.
Before I get to the perfect landing spot for Iverson, it should be pointed out that he probably should be in Charlotte, playing for the Bobcats, being coached by the only coach who really understood how to structure a team around him, Larry Brown. Coach and player are much like high-maintenance quarterbacks with special skills and relationship needs. It doesn't matter than Brown and Iverson had some bumpy times in Philly; the relationship brought the best out of Iverson; the 76ers went to the NBA Finals in 2001.
Brown doesn't have a championship-caliber team in Charlotte, but he does have just the kind of complementary and in some cases deferential players (Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, Tyson Chandler, Gerald Wallace) who would play so well with and off of Iverson.
But that ship has sailed.
Still, A.I. needs to play with a contender. It's a good thing he didn't sign with the Clippers either, which didn't happen because the people who run the Clippers had the good sense to actually talk to Iverson about his perceived role, only to find out Iverson saw himself as the star of the team and they saw him coming off the bench. Iverson, no matter how many points he can score, is past the point of helping a bad team, or even a mediocre team. But he can significantly help a serious contender, probably by coming off the bench, certainly by providing energy at the end of games.
He needs to be on a team with players he respects enough so that he can be relatively happy to come off the bench because the rewards are so great. Iverson, frankly, needs a team that needs him, and there aren't so many of them. He needs a team where his ability to create his own shot will help a superstar, where he can also work the end of the game as a closer, a team where his reckless abandon and pedal-to-the-metal aggression in smaller doses will be an asset, not a liability.
I'm talking about the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Everybody who loves watching Allen Iverson play has a scenario which would put Iverson someplace of consequence, and no, I'm not talking about Madison Square Garden; thankfully Newsday is reporting the Knicks have no interest, not that anybody should be interested in them.
Anyway, Dime magazine's Austin Burton has proposed a three-way trade with Sacramento that would send A.I. from Memphis to Philly, where he presumably would be rejuvenated. The 76ers would lose center Samuel Dalembert, who doesn't fit Coach Eddie Jordan's offense the way Marreese Speights seems to so far. Iverson could replace Lou Williams in the starting lineup, be back in his old stomping ground playing for a team with aspirations in the Eastern Conference, dust off his old uniform, and just go.
I like it, actually. You could have a lineup of Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand and A.I. to go with Speights. Not bad.
But it ain't like playing with LeBron James, is it?
Look, I don't have the specific trade worked out but Iverson no longer makes the kind of coin that makes him difficult to deal. He's not hurting anybody's salary cap. A.I., much to his regret, works relatively cheap these days. So far, from what we've seen this season the Cavaliers need another scorer to take the pressure off LeBron, and not somebody he has to set up but a player who can get his own shot and score dependably when LeBron isn't even on the floor or is being swarmed by opposing team's junk defenses.
Iverson surely must look at the Grizzlies' roster of undecorated youngsters and say, "I'm sitting behind these scrubs?" No chance Iverson can accept that, and understandably so.
But coming off the bench to support LeBron and Shaq? That's another story. And, again, joining Cleveland would give Iverson a chance to win.
Iverson joining LeBron would be like Randy Moss leaving the Raiders (which he hated, just like Iverson hates being with the Grizzlies) to hook up with Tom Brady in New England. Even if Iverson was coming off the bench, his energy would light up the Q during home games. It's been years since Iverson played before that kind of home crowd and had that kind of goodwill extended to him by a metropolis desperate to win. He'd be part of a championship equation.
Is there risk involved for the Cavaliers? Sure, of course there is -- like the risk involved when the Chicago Bulls took on Dennis Rodman, or to update the analogy, like the Celtics taking on Rasheed Wallace. It was up to Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen to sit on Rodman if necessary. It's up to Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers to get in 'Sheed's face if necessary.
And it would be up to LeBron, Shaq and Coach Mike Brown (in that order) to keep Iverson in line if the whining started. Diva players don't have to be tolerated in the NFL, but in professional basketball they have to be handled with great care and feeding. I don't think it would come to that.
Iverson, now more than ever, wants to win. And there is urgency in Cleveland, where they don't know how long they'll have LeBron. The Cavaliers, so far, seem to be in need of a little spice, something that gives the soup a little extra kick. Wouldn't Iverson, with all he can still do on the court on a nightly basis, be worth the risk for a team that appears to need what he has?