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Iverson Misadventure Highlights Moribund Memphis Grizzlies' Ineptitude

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst INovember 9, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 06:  Allen Iverson #3 of the Memphis Grizzlies staands on the court in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on November 6, 2009 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 114-98.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies dropped a 113-100 decision to the Los Angeles Clippers Saturday night at Staples Center. They blew a halftime lead the night before in the same building against the defending champion Lakers.

Another season means another chance for mortally ill Memphis to lose 50 to 60 games.

It’s hard to know what’s worse, that the Grizzlies brass considered adding Allen Iverson to this chaos, or that GM Chris Wallace and owner Michael Heisley’s facial expressions during the mercurial guard’s introductory press conference seemed to suggest they had convinced themselves this partnership could work.

If Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon constituted the odd couple, this marriage qualifies as the relationship from hell.

Stuck in pro basketball’s perennial inferno, thanks to a cheapskate owner and non-existent fan support, the Grizzlies are headed for one of the ugliest, darkest seasons in NBA history.

Heisley decided he would rather sell a few more tickets than concentrate on building a winner.

The construction process had just begun.

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The bird-brained decision to chase Iverson when no one else wanted him will cause whatever foundation existed to collapse under the weight of his demands and management’s penchant for failure.

There is no way this team can win with Iverson’s distractions, nor can he help Rudy Gay or OJ Mayo—promising talents for sure—make the playoffs.

Iverson was a petulant punk, now he’s just a cheap, fool hearted sales ploy.

In his Philadelphia heyday, he represented the ultimate flawed genius—a tough-as-nails competitor who could get by on his marvelous talents without proper practice.

We learn a lot about players when their abilities begin to decline. How players perform in their 30s is as crucial as how they perform in their early 20s.

What did Kobe Bryant, 31, do this summer? The best player on the planet, already unguardable, worked with Hakeem Olajuwon on his postgame. Bryant’s sole focus: helping the L.A. Lakers defend their 15th NBA crown.

Tim Duncan at 33? He shed 15 pounds without anyone in the Spurs organization asking him to do so. Duncan’s reason: he hopes a lighter frame will keep him healthier and fresher for the playoffs, when he hopes to deliver a fifth title to small-market San Antonio.

These men are winners, driven by the desire to be the best at their positions, consumed by the thrill of finishing on top. Is Iverson?

He led a flawed Philadelphia roster to the NBA Finals, where the Sixers became the only team to defeat the 2000 Lakers in a playoff game that season.

In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-league, that doesn’t matter now.

Upon his arrival in Denver, sent there via trade when the Sixers could take no more, he promised to show Carmelo Anthony a thing or two about leadership.

Anthony’s defining moment alongside Iverson. He accused his teammates of quitting in a first-round loss to the Lakers.

Just as it happened with the Sixers after 2001, the Nuggets turned into an organization of excuses. Iverson and Anthony became the league’s highest scoring duo, electrifying defenses every night.

Three prominent ESPN analysts picked the Nuggets to win a title after the blockbuster trade.

Should we call that failed experiment, a box office flop, or a disasterpiece?

No one can debate the victor of the Iverson-Chauncey Billups swap. Detroit could regain its conference finalist form in a few years, but only because Iverson and his contract are gone.

GM Joe Dumars admired Iverson’s best quality as so many others have. He plays hard and rarely avoids contact.

The former Pistons guard recalled the 2001 Iverson, now a figment of the NBA’s imagination, and hoped he could recreate the nostalgia with a franchise becoming an East also-ran.

Instead, Iverson refused to accept a bench role, created lethal internal strife, alienated his teammates and made rookie coach Michael Curry’s mistakes look even worse.

Curry was in over his head just as Lionel Hollins is now in Memphis.

The greatest players in the history of the game would have sacrificed for the good of the team if asked. Larry Bird did not come off the bench for the Boston Celtics because it never made sense. The Bulls needed Michael Jordan in the starting lineup to set the tone.

Iverson, on the other hand, would best serve a team as a reserve. His reckless defense and ball domination set the wrong tone for the Pistons. His short stint off the pine in Motown failed because he decided the role could never work. He did not try.

There are several contending benches in need of a creative ballhandler who can fill it up in a hurry.

“I’m not a bench player. I’m not a sixth man,” Iverson told the Memphis Commercial Appeal . “Look at my resume and that’ll show I’m not a sixth man. I don’t think it has anything to do with me being selfish. It’s just who I am. I don’t want to change what gave me all the success that I’ve had since I’ve been in this league. I’m not a sixth man. And that’s that.”

Tell that to Manu Ginobili or Jason Terry, two willing reserves who boast superior winning percentages. Ginobili is headed for Springfield and could have been a several-time All-Star had he started. He agrees to come off the bench because it makes the Spurs a better, more dangerous team.

It doesn’t matter what Iverson’s been or what he thinks he deserves. He believes his career scoring average and his awesome talents make his jejune behavior acceptable.

Wrong answer.

Great players adapt. They accept reality.

The reality for Iverson: no one begged or even asked him to come aboard, as the Celtics did with Rasheed Wallace, the Lakers did with Ron Artest and the Spurs did with Antonio McDyess.

The players teams really wanted, save Lamar Odom, signed within the first three weeks of free agency.

Iverson should get a clue. No one inked him until September, and Memphis only did so out of desperation.

No one can compare this selfishness to Bryant’s temper tantrum in which he demanded a trade and interrupted the 2007 Western Conference Finals. We know now that Bryant unloaded because the thought of another first-round exit in L.A. sickened him.

He is one of the all-time greatest winners.

Duncan and Paul Pierce privately asked their front offices or roster upgrades so they could chase championship rings.

Has Iverson convinced you that a title is the only thing on his mind?

At 31, with his athleticism sure to decline, a max contract should be the last thing on his mind. Money and stardom, instead, seem to stay at the forefront.

No championship contender wants him because they wonder if he’s willing to sacrifice for the good of the team.

Iverson thinks he needs to score 30 points per game to remain a valuable player, when playing nice and accepting a lesser role will get his phone ringing again.

Teams want to see Iverson the winner, not A.I. the combustible showman.

Everyone with an NBA-related job knows what he can do with the ball in his hands. You know it. I know it.

What he will not do is what’s killing his career.

Do not dismiss this as some holier-than-thou diatribe. Not even his staunchest supporters can excuse this behavior.

This does not mean anyone should place all of the blame on the embattled combo guard.

Heisley is as complicit in this 15-car pileup as Iverson.

He propagated this abomination just as he demanded that his general manager donate Pau Gasol to the first available suitor.

He then whined like a crybaby when the Lakers reached the NBA Finals and his franchise seemed as far from the playoffs as Pee Wee Herman or Daffy Duck.

Unfortunately for the few Grizzlies fans left, Heisley has no trouble sleeping in the bed he’s made.

This debacle is what happens when an owner—not the basketball operations staff—runs the show.

Jerry Buss and Peter Holt might make stern suggestions to Mitch Kupchak and R.C. Buford, but they would never condone this.

Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo need stability to realize their potential. They need veteran teammates who will show them that defense wins big games. Talk is cheap.

The Grizzlies have yet to play in a meaningful game since the Gasol heist.

Heisley has set Iverson up to fail, and he deserves as much if not more condemnation for this monumental idiocy.

Why would anyone with a brain and the ability to check Wikipedia want Iverson on a team that will be lucky to win 30 games?

One stat-stuffing black hole—power forward Zach Randolph—was not enough.

Memphis fans want to see an intelligent winner, not Jupiter metaphorically represented on the hardwood.

At the end of that cockamamie press conference, a city councilman handed Iverson a Gibson guitar and invited him to play on Beale Street anytime he desired.

Now, that civic leader probably wants the instrument back so he can smash his head in with it.

There is more to basketball than playing hard. Basketball IQ matters. Teamwork matters.

Yes, even practice matters.

We are talkin’ bout practice. We are talkin’ bout leadership. We are talkin’ bout winning.

The Grizzlies need all three of those things pronto.

With Iverson in the fold, those franchise essentials are as out of reach as cures for AIDS and cancer.

Two deadly diseases in Iverson and Heisley, one spotlight to share.

The only roars coming from these Grizzlies will be cries for mercy, pleas that will go unanswered as long as the man in charge of the operation allows delusions of grandeur to become his own sick realities.

No extension for Gay

The deadline for teams to negotiate contract extensions with 2006 draftees passed last week, and Rudy Gay was not amongst the few who signed for more years, making him a restricted free agent next summer.

The two sides could not agree on the length of the contract or its annual payout. He wanted a five-year, $50 million deal.

Instead of joining Rajon Rondo, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andrea Bargnani, he will learn his fate in 2010 along with Thaddeus Young, Tyrus Thomas and Ronnie Brewer.

Gay is still favored to resign with the Grizz, just as Brewer and Young are not likely to change zip codes.

Remember the ballyhoo this offseason about the potential for a record number of restricted free agents to change teams?

Of the prominent names available—even with Paul Millsap signing the Portland Trail Blazers frontloaded offer sheet—only Ramon Sessions began the year on another roster.

The idea of restricted free agency, per the collective bargaining agreement, is to make it easier for teams to bring players back.

With most teams eyeing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010, or salary flexibility—most teams’ euphemism for cost cutting—it will be hard for anyone to pry Gay from the vicinity of Graceland.

He has flashed superstar-level talent but has yet to harness those abilities in a winning way. His defense still needs drastic improvement, and his shot selection would send any coach to a nuthouse.

It is possible, however, that a playoff team might be willing to dangle enough dough to make Memphis reconsider another contract offer. Possible but not likely.

Does Mike Conley get the point?

In Iverson’s case, starting is a vanity. In Conley’s case, it might be a necessity.

Iverson boasts way more talent than Conley, but the Grizzlies need to know this year if their project point man can deliver the goods.

Wallace shipped Kyle Lowry to Houston, giving Conley the team’s full confidence and its reigns.

The fourth pick in the 2007 NBA draft behind Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, and Al Horford, Conley must average than 10 points and four assists to live up to his billing.

The same shortcomings that left scouts uneasy in 2007—a spotty jumper and lackluster quickness off the dribble—still exist.

His strengths—a few marginally effective post and face up moves—still need NBA-level revisions.

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