Why is A.I. Not in N.Y.?
A final plea to keep Allen Iverson out of Memphis.
Within a matter of hours, Allen Iverson may become the newest member of the Memphis Grizzlies. After franchise owner Michael Heisley, head coach Lionel Hollins and general manager Chris Wallace all met with A.I. for two hours on Monday, it seems likely that the two sides will reach a one-year deal for the upcoming ’09-10 season.
Iverson tweeted earlier Wednesday, “God Chose Memphis as the place that I will continue my career.” But while basketball fans everywhere are preparing for the four-time NBA scoring champion to depart from the national spotlight, I’m still left wondering – why not let A.I. get the attention he deserves? Hey New York! Don’t let Iverson be buried in the ground when he could flourish in The Garden.
Hey Donnie Walsh, pick up the phone!
Earlier this off-season, the New York Knicks made it clear they were interested in two free agents – Ramon Session and Allen Iverson. Sessions was a stud last year, scoring more than 12 points and dishing nearly 6 assists per game. And he’s just 22 years old. By contrast, the 34-year-old Iverson had the worst season of his career. In an injury-plagued and unhappy year, the point guard played in only 54 games, averaged a career-low 17.4 ppg, and served as a bench player for a good portion of the season.
As the summer months breezed by, the Minnesota Timberwolves did what Donnie Walsh’s Knicks were oddly reluctant to do: The T-Wolves not only pulled the trigger on Sessions, they managed to sign the promising guard for only $16 million over a four-year term. With option No. 2 still on the table, at least temporarily, it’s time for Donnie Walsh to pick up the phone, talk with Iverson, and give New York something it hasn’t had in a decade – relevancy.
“We’re talking about practice”
Over the last 13 years, Allen Iverson has proven to be a prolific scorer at his position (his 27.1 career ppg ranks fifth all-time). In 71 playoff games, the guard averaged 29.7 points, 6 assists and 3.8 rebounds. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1996, crowned the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2000, played in 10 All Star games and earned All-Star game MVP honors twice.
But his ego at times has managed to overshadow these accomplishments. He upset the likes of NBA Commissioner David Stern, committing infractions ranging from publishing derogatory rap lyrics to disrespecting the NBA dress code. He has been fined thousands of dollars for criticizing NBA officials after games. Upon entering the League, he was even arrested in 1997 for carrying a concealed weapon and possession of marijuana. He has been ruled a ‘head case’ or a distraction by coaches, players, fans and pundits. There is no way a player with that type of resume and personality belongs in Memphis. The feisty 6-footer has played with the same ‘go big or go home’ mentality his entire career. He deserves nothing less than to return one last time to the big stage.
The reality is Iverson hasn’t made much noise, good or bad, in the NBA or off the court over the last two seasons. Following the November trade in 2008, Chauncey Billups took Denver by storm and became the talk of the town while Iverson seemingly lost his identity in Detroit… literally. A.I., who had worn No. 3 on his back for the entirety of his NBA career, was forced to switch to No. 1 for the Pistons. Weeks later, he was demoted to the bench and shut down for the year with an alleged back-injury.
It is highly unlikely that one of the NBA’s greatest, who still made $21 million last season, will actually want to continue serving as a bench player in Memphis for what could be his final season. He might bring a few thousand more Grizzlies or old Sixers fans to the FedEx Forum, but rest assured they would be the only ones to see him in action. Simply put, the Griz do not garner national attention or TV ratings, with or without him. Iverson would also be competing for playing time with young guards O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley and Marcus Williams, as well as veteran Marco Jaric. Surrounded by such a cast, A.I. may only play 20-25 minutes per game in that system. Finally, Mayo, along with Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, demand the ball throughout the game. We all know Iverson is not the kind of player who likes (or needs) to share.
New York, New York
In New York, A.I. could be signed as a mid-level exception and instantly earn a starting point guard role over Chris Duhon or Nate Robinson. The exception is ideal for New York for both the long and short term. The mid-level exception would cost NY $5.85 million for one year, allowing the franchise to continue its quest to sign one of the young All-Star free agents in 2010 (namely LeBron James) and subsequently turn the franchise around.
With 2009 still a rebuilding year for the Knicks, Iverson would help New York make some noise this upcoming season and sell-out Madison Square Garden once again. With Jamal Crawford gone, nobody on the Knicks “needs” the ball. At the helm once again, Iverson could easily lead the Knicks in scoring and average at least 20 points, 6 assists per game. And hey, even if injury or age inhibits him from playing a full 82-game season, Iverson’s jersey sales will at least help cover the salaries of Larry Hughes and Eddie Curry.