Trying to correctly guess what team is going to sign Allen Iverson is less accurate than a shot in the dark. Allen Iverson has recently tweeted about possible suitors and landing destinations, hinting that a possible deal is in the works. The teams reported to be interested in the future Hall-of-Fame guard have included the Heat, Bobcats, Knicks, Grizzlies, and Clippers. Now, the actual interest these teams have in Iverson could be overblown or underplayed, depending on the actual team. The term “fit” will almost never have been so loosely applied as when Iverson eventually inks a deal with any team.
It’s an uncomfortable situation that has surrounded the Iverson camp since his pricey contract expired this offseason. The very traits and uniqueness that made Iverson a Hall-of-Fame caliber player are the very things that have prevented him from signing a deal. He is who he is, unchanged throughout his career, the same Allen as he was at Georgetown and probably well before. He was the symbol of a post-Jordan era of basketball, the official integration of the hip-hop culture into the game. His braids influenced if not inspired a decade of cornrow dominance amongst the NBA; his tattoos were symbolic of his realness as opposed to Rodman’s, which merely furthered the widely held belief of his insanity.
His game was a spectacle, a little guy who preferred to mix it up in the paint with the behemoths that roam the lane. He was sort of like Isaiah Thomas, but more like the next evolutionary step (perhaps an evolutionary step is more apropos considering he branched towards heavier scoring and less as a visionary passer). He had the heart of a man twice his size (he was like the opposite of the tin man in the Wizard of Oz). He was a man of the people, mostly because he was unmarketable to a large portion of America. He didn’t care about most of it, he was here to play basketball and enjoy himself and his family, which is what he cared about.
He scored with such reckless abandon on the court that he simply overpowered opponents with sheer volume of buckets. The Philadelphia 76ers were Allen Iverson and Allen Iverson was the Philadelphia 76ers for a decade. The entirety of Philly’s plan for success was constructed around the ruggedness of Iverson’s game/scoring. The team built around Iverson was specifically designed to gain the most out of Iverson’s talents. He was going to put up a lot of shots, so Philadelphia brought in unselfish players who could assist on offense but focused mainly on playing solid defense. Guys like Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Dikembe Mutumbo, and Theo Ratliff all filled the bill. AI was a gambler on the court on offense and defense. The box score reflects his propensity to take ill-advised shots, but it doesn’t show how he played defense.
He was never a great defender, he stuck to closing in on passing lanes and sneaking away with a couple of steals every game. This is the reason that the rest of the 76ers needed to be solid defenders. The strategy garnered tons of success for Iverson and coach Larry Brown. They made it all the way to the finals on the back of Iverson who carried them with pure will and heart. As any Lakers fan knows, they would be Los Angeles’ second victim in their three-peat spanning the early years of the 2000’s, losing to the Shaq and Kobe duo in five games.
His relationship with the 76ers deteriorated, sort of like a marriage that was forced because of a pregnancy and the child grew up and moved out. Trades are part of the game, but this seemed more like a break-up than a trade. In Denver, Iverson was still Iverson despite concerns that his style of basketball would clash with Denver star Carmelo Anthony. Granted, both needed to put up over twenty shots to be effective offensive players, both had cornrows, and both had a seemingly careless attitude towards any negativity. They were thought to be a double scoring threat, a pairing that would have to just outshoot opponents for victory. And it worked in a meaningless way because unless you were the Suns, a shooting spree didn’t win games in the impossible West.
Then, the trade to Detroit happened. Exactly what Joe Dumars thought he was doing is still up for debate, but it is generally accepted that he wanted to cut payroll and shift the comfort level for the Pistons. The Pistons worked so well with Billups leading, all the pieces fell in place for them to consistently be a top two team in the East. Rip Hamilton raced around screens for Billups to hit him with a solid pass, or Rasheed drifted outside, or Tayshaun did what Tayshaun did. It worked, not really explainable by modern science, but it worked. He was a scoring point guard, but knew when it was appropriate to start pouring in buckets and when he needed to pass the ball. Iverson isn’t as apt to give up the ball without proper cause.
He averaged a career worst 17 PPG, which is a phenomenal nadir in a career, and struggled with injuries. He relegated fan favorite Rip Hamilton to the bench, a terrible move by most accounts. The Pistons were not the Pistons of old, and Iverson was the obvious scapegoat, the only difference from the previous year. His malfunctioning back forced him to sit out a hefty portion of the season, something new to Iverson up until that point. Then, after his ego had already been bruised, Detroit attempted to take away his starting spot. Iverson’s pride refused and his back injury was blamed for the reason that he would not be returning to the court that season.
Which leads us to this point, the awkward blacklisting of Iverson by a majority of teams. The same cavalier shooting tendency that made Iverson such a fan favorite and hall-of-famer is the same thing that intimidates teams that would be interested in him. He is not going to change at this point, the phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” comes to mind. He is still going to be the same ball chucking Allen Iverson that he has been since birth. Multiple teams have expressed interest, Memphis being the most recent team and have extended Iverson a contract offer.
The Grizzlies are a young and developing team, laced with talented young players who should be something important, but to this point aren’t. Where Iverson fits in is still in question. Obviously, if Iverson is considering it he has to be a starter, which leaves former lottery-pick Mike Conley on the bench. That in turn leaves all intentions of passing on the bench as well, having Iverson, OJ Mayo, and Rudy Gay on the court at the same time.
The alternatives are the Charlotte Bobcats, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, and Los Angeles Clippers. With Charlotte, Iverson will we reunited with former coach Larry Brown. In addition, he will likely force fellow veteran Raja Bell to the bench, leaving the defensive intentions of the Bobcats in question. The Knicks have unsettled positions at both the point and shooting guards, neither Chris Duhon nor Larry Hughes are “the future” of the Knicks. Hughes is a taller, less committed version of Iverson and Duhon really shouldn’t be a starting point guard. They are also involved in the Ramon Sessions situation. Why they just don’t immediately sign Sessions is perplexing. An athletic point guard who likes to run, score, and will pass seems like a perfect fit for D’Antoni’s system. Pat Riley is really high on the prospect of Allen Iverson, saying he would be a steal for whoever signs him. He is acting like a married man who sees an attractive woman and knows he can’t have her. The Clippers scenario has already been greatly exhausted (see here).
Allen Iverson is a rogue scorer, even at this late stage of his career. His considerable skills have been slowly withering as interest in him has taken a similar dip since the rise of younger stars. He was the face of the NBA for nearly a decade, the unwanted poster child who young ballers looked up to because he refused to be anything but himself. I sincerely hope that someone takes a flyer on Iverson, not necessarily for their benefit, but because he is still great theater in today’s NBA.