The Man Who Wasn't King
Allen Iverson is bonkin' it up in Turkey, in a second-tier league, and he's likely broke. This is how it ends?
Whether or not you like to admit, once upon a time Allen Iverson was the NBA. When Jordan was gone for the second time, and Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant popular but hollow, it was Iverson who filled the void. He was a polarizing figure, an icon for a generation and, for a few that came before, proof that the sport was doomed.
On his best days, he was positively electric, and won games, too. On the bad ones, well, he had the swagger and personality to slough it off -- only making it worse for those already inclined to screw up their faces at them.
But enough about me. Iverson didn't prove the doubters wrong when he tried to stick in Memphis; failed utterly in his return to Philly; and now, isn't even able to play prodigal son, or the sad-sack has-been reaping the spoils of foreign shores. Plenty of lesser men have been able to, in far better leagues. Why not Allen Iverson? At this point, it's impossible to say. We have no way of knowing if this will last. But given the slow, painful decline that he's been in since leaving Denver, it's hard to think anything good is going to come out of this international move -- it seems like the last stop, the final straw, and any other metaphor of doom you care to call on.
At Ball Don't Lie, Kelly Dwyer noted that maybe, just maybe, there's a half-full moral to all this. Allen Iverson, after spending years with his every move, word, and non-highlight being scrutinized, can finally just play. Except he's broke. And as of yet, his considerable skills -- AI slowed down a little but didn't burn out overnight like most guys dependent on speed, especially those who took a beating like him -- haven't made the trip with him to Turkey. As of now, it's a shell of Iverson that's taking the court. The real Allen Iverson died a long time ago, maybe. Or we were all that kept him alive.
Kelly imagines Iverson just playing, for the love of the game. We know that AI, above all else, was a competitor who loved to win. But this isn't Jordan's "I'll kick your ass at checkers" mentality. Iverson fought his whole life to get to the top. He didn't make it, in the end. Now that he's hit rock-bottom, there's no way to pretend that there's much left at stake.
Perhaps most depressingly, though, Iverson broke, and broken, in Turkey, represents the complete and total repudiation of Iverson's NBA. Sure, his influence is still felt. But everyone who came after knew that, to survive as teammates and market commodities, they had to compromise, or tone it down. More to the point, AI's original shock and fury, in the way he played, dressed, and spoke, was simply absorbed into hoops culture. Basketball's connection to the "hood" was assimilated, in all senses of the word, into what athletes expected of themselves, and we of them.
Just minus the rough edges that made AI so special. Same goes for his jewelry, bravura, and when he felt like it, uncommon honesty. Every youngster knows these tricks. But they know how to avoid paying a price for them.
One thing only a few have picked up on, at all, is Iverson's willingness to sacrifice his body for the game. Before Wade made a commercial about drawing contact, AI had a whole campaign based around his broken bones. He was down, but never out. No matter what happened, Iverson wasn't just lucky -- he was resilient. Now, not only has his luck run out. It doesn't seem like he could get up off the ground, even if he wanted to. (BS)
Rookie Crystal Ball
A dozen or so games into the season, it's time to check in on the rookies. Others, including ESPN's David Thorpe and NBA.com's Drew Packham, do the straightforward performance assessment better than I could. So we're tweaking the gimmick, and looking 10 years into the future.
Who is doomed to fail, with no chance at survival? Who will be cast in bronze before they reach their 25th birthday? Let's find out.
First, a note: some 52 rookies have already received playing time this year, and NBA D-League call-up season hasn't even arrived yet. Last year, only 58 rookies logged a minute all season. It's a rookie epidemic!
DESTINED TO BE DRAFTED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Blake Griffin.
Griffin has been so unnervingly destructive for the hapless Clippers that he can't possibly just play basketball for the next decade. It's his patriotic duty to join the military as a part of some Jason Bourne-like top secret project. Actually, he may already be the product of something like that. The CIA sent him to the NBA to ... convince LeBron James to play in the 2012 Olympics.
Blake's explosivity is hard to understand, even as you watch highlight after highlight, time after time. Shoals compared it to early Amar'e, which is accurate. But it's been so long since Stoudemire's debut that watching Griffin requires the re-acquisition of the abilities of visual comprehension Blake's dunks demand. We've been reading Archie comics for seven years, and now you want us to pick up Ulysses and burn through a few pages every night? That's a tough transition.
DESTINED TO WIN MULTIPLE ALL-STAR GAME MVP AWARDS: John Wall.
Wall, of course, will be an All-Star forever. But his game is so dependent on outrageous physical gifts -- gifts impossible to mute while playing any version of the game of basketball -- that against soft All-Star defenses, he'll simply dominate. Iverson is a good comparison here -- he had two ASG MVPs; the difference is that A.I. could save his legs by jacking up deep jumpers. Wall, ever earnest, will be breaking out in transition every other possession.
That's perhaps the most striking difference between Wall and his predecessors Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans. While Rose has been much more aggro this season, he's still imbued with a sense of calm. Evans looks like he's on sizz half the time he has the ball. Wall? Nope: a constant scream on the court. That's a real double-edged sword, as, well, Iverson could tell you. But that spirit of constant forward progress mixed with his rocket-fueled body is a great mix right now, and for the forseeable future.
DESTINED FOR CONSTANT DISRESPECT: Derrick Favors.
Al Horford can never win, on account of being born of the same draft class as Kevin Durant. Horford's game is reserved, powerful and only visible to real heads. Even Martians can watch Durant for 20 seconds and know what's up. So it is with Griffin and Wall: there's no mystery to their excellence. But for Favors, like Horford, you have to really pay attention to appreciate the production. They said Favors could be the next Tim Duncan; I hardly think they meant it in this way.
Favors has been surprisingly solid in all facets of the game, considering he's a 19-year-old on a mediocre team with a demanding coach. As his offense develops and he gains experience on defense, he'll be a joy to watch for anyone who cares to notice.
DESTINED TO CAUSE DOZENS OF DIVORCES: DeMarcus Cousins.
I'm not a DJ, but I imagine a DJ would think of Cousins as a dope record that's BPM simply doesn't seem to match up with anything. Cousins has about two minutes within every game where he honestly looks like Griffin's equal in terms of raw offensive impact, if not in the demolition arts. But usually, for the rest of the game, Cousins looks like an out-of-control woolly mammoth paid by the FGA. Optimists see the makings of the next Barkley. Realists see ... well, an out-of-control woolly mammoth would occasionally looks like the next Barkley.
DESTINED TO BE TRADED FOR A SUPERSTAR THEN FALL OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH: Landry Fields.
I mean no offense to Fields, who is playing his tail off and, in retrospect, should have been taken a lot more seriously. That said, some team (Denver, perhaps?) is going to convince itself Fields is enough of a prospect to be the centerpiece (or at least a big part) of a major trade. That, my friends, will be a mistake. So much of Fields' production is due to circumstance -- he does things no other Knick can, because the Knicks kind of suck. On other teams, his "effort" and "intelligence" won't be so rare, and scarcity is the core driver of value. In other words, the Knicks need him more than anyone else does.
DESTINED TO BE APPOINTED CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UTAH SUPREME COURT: Gordon Hayward.
Would you believe Hayward, Butler's Final Four darling a year ago, is very popular with Jazz fans? All end-of-the-bench rookies receive home crowd support early on -- even Darko got pop in Motown! But the zest for Hayward's entrances is uncomfortably warm. I have to believe he could kidnap a Chilean miner and still get applause from the SLC faithful. (TZ)
He Is Not Your Role Model
It's been a week of minor triumphs for Delonte West. The seventh-year vet returned to NBA action, now a member of the Celtics team that drafted him in the first place. West contributed a little, and then when Rajon Rondo went down with injury, he was able to step in and remind everyone just how valuable he can be. And with that, Delonte West rejoined the ranks of the living.
West, as you may recall, fell into NBA purgatory after he went off his meds for manic depression and did some crazy stuff involving a three-wheeler and a bunch of firearms. Today, West refers to that as "a bad decision," downplaying the role his biochemistry played in the matter and, as many therapists encourage you to do, take full responsibility for your mania-induced actions. The same goes for his preseason scuffle with Von Wafer. Bad days, mistakes, things West needs to figure out how to avoid, or at least work through.
Writing about Ron Artest this offseason, Eric Freeman reminded us that Artest's therapy hadn't "fixed" him, just allowed him to be himself without getting in his own way. That's an easy conclusion to draw, when Artest carried on after the Finals like more of a weirdo than ever. In Delonte's case, though, the fairly precise (and supposedly straightforward) nature of his illness comes down to making good decisions. Ken Berger stressed West's new-found ability to stake out a middle ground between the highs and lows. This is in keeping with West's talk of making sound decisions. But if we simply look at West as a guy who should do the right thing, we kind of miss the point of a bipolar athlete making a comeback.
On Monday, West told FanHouse's Chris Tomasson that he believes he's a role model. A role model makes good decisions; West is realizing he needs to do the same. Except West is only a role model to other people with his disorder. His decision-making process isn't about a normal brain having good judgment, or teaching your children well. There is something different with his mind. If you're lucky enough to have the same problem (I am), then watching West try to negotiate the high-pressure world of professional athletics, to make precise choices on and off the court, is beyond encouraging.
West wants to be predictable, consistent, if not totally normal (contrast this with Artest). The romanticization of manic depression all too often assumes that being colorful, or wacky, is a given -- a good thing, even. In sports, this probably isn't the best way to keep a job unless you're a superstar.
For everyone else, though, West can still hold meaning. Do you have a kid? When he or she asks about Delonte West, explain to him what he's done, why it might have happened, and how it's still possible for him to return to a place and live like a functional basketball citizen. That's not a role model, or an example. It's a lesson about people who are different, and accepting and understanding them and all that. Especially if they're trying like Delonte. Tell your kid that he shouldn't look to Delonte for guidance and values, because Delonte isn't sane. What he can learn from him, though, is something a lot less mundane. He can see what real courage and dignity look like. (BS)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.