Iverson Says All the Right Things but ...
If Iverson wasn't interested in coming off the bench last season with a playoff team in Detroit, do you think he's throwing his hand up and volunteering to take a seat on the pine at the opening tip for the woeful Memphis Grizzlies?
"Yes, it does matter,'' said Iverson, asked on a conference call Thursday whether it matters to him to be a starter with his new team. "I care about going to training camp and fighting for a position. I never was given anything that I was rewarded for. I always earned it by my play.
"So, if I go to training camp, if I get beat out, then obviously the right thing is to start that guy who played the best. And then, if it helps the team for me to come off the bench, so be it. It's not something I want to do, but, if that is going to help us win basketball games, then that's the right thing to do.'' Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins when he tells Iverson he's going to be a reserve when Memphis opens the season Oct. 28 against Detroit. Yes, those would be the same Pistons who saw Iverson last season balk about coming off the bench and later shelved the guard for the season with a suspect back injury.
The Grizzlies obviously didn't sign Iverson to a one-year, $3.5 million deal in order to stunt the development of shooting guard O.J. Mayo and point guard Mike Conley. Barring injuries, if they don't remain Memphis' starters, this is a more messed-up team than anybody thought.
Iverson was introduced in Memphis on Thursday, a day after he agreed to join the Grizzlies, and was given a locally-made Gibson guitar during a circus-like press conference. Or, it also could be put that, with training camp less than three weeks away, Iverson, 34, signed after he realized no other team was going to give him an offer.
"It may have,'' Iverson admitted about his reluctance last season to come off the bench costing him an opportunity to sign with a contender. "But I think differently from other people. People pick their guys on who they think is going to win the championship. You have debates about who's the favorite on winning the championship. I don't think that way ... I wouldn't have come here if I didn't feel like I was trying to win a championship.''
It's nice to know Iverson really thinks the Grizzlies, 24-58 last season, have a chance to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy. What else is he supposed to say on the day he is introduced?"I'm not the player that I was at 24. I think at 24 the gas tank was over- flowing. Now, it's just full."
-- Allen Iverson
Iverson tried to say all the right things. But it often seeped through that Iverson is very reluctantly accepting that his game has diminished.
"I'm not the player that I was at 24,'' he did concede. "I think at 24 the gas tank was overflowing. Now, it's just full.''
Iverson did not like the suggestion that perhaps he needs to become a role player in the twilight of his career.
"I would never look at me as a role player,'' said Iverson, who said he's not sure how many more years he wants to play, but that, when he starts "embarrassing myself, then obviously I'll shut it down.''
OK, let's phrase it differently. Does Iverson, who has a career average of 27.1 points but slipped to 17.5 during his lackluster 2008-09 season, need to continue to score 20 points a night?
"Maybe,'' said Iverson, who has won four scoring titles. "It may be less. Whatever it's going to take to win basketball games. I've done all that scoring ... I've had scoring titles and accomplished a lot of things ... I averaged under 20 points last year, and the flip side of that, people turned it around and said that I had the worst season I ever had. Yeah, I had the worst season I ever had, but that was the position I was put in.''
But why might this season be different? The Grizzlies have another up-and-coming perimeter player in small forward Rudy Gay. They've got a power forward in Zach Randolph, who is used to scoring 20 points a night himself. And Randolph, at 28, isn't exactly taking his teeth out at night to put them on the nightstand.
At least Iverson didn't deny it's possible one reason the Grizzlies signed him was to sell some tickets. Memphis was 29th in the NBA in attendance last season, averaging a paltry 12,745 fans.
"I would be lying if I was to say that that's not true,'' said Iverson, who said he's "definitely looking forward'' to facing his old team in the Oct. 28 opener at FedEx Forum. "I know that they sold me on being committed to winning. Now, if they were to get me into coming here to sell tickets, I wouldn't know because that's not something that they told me. That's a good question. I thought about that as well. But the flip side of that is, at least we'll have some people to play in front of.''
Iverson, who made $20.84 million last season before becoming a free agent for the first time in his 13-year career, thought the free-agency process would be "a lot more fun'' He said it was a "real frustrating time'' because it took so long for him to find a team.
If Iverson is coming off the bench when the season starts, his frustration might continue.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com.