By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Aug 13 2009 2:15PM
Career 27-point scorers don't hit the open market and stay there. It wasn't that long ago that when a player of Allen Iverson's caliber hit free agency, a dozen teams would be waiting at his door as the clock struck midnight.
Those days appear to be over, at least when it comes to AI. The opinion of several general managers is that Iverson and his vast talents simply aren't worth the trouble. At just about any price.
"It's a really dicey question," one general manager said.
That isn't to imply that Iverson won't have a job come October. Unless he decides to retire -- which one GM thinks is possible -- the safe bet is that AI will lace up the sneakers for a 14th season, with a fourth team in less than three years.
Still, the majority of franchises don't seem to have more than a passing curiosity in a former franchise player. The list of reasons range from his demands and expectations, to his attitude and perception as a divisive force, to his age. Iverson turned 34 earlier this summer.
"As a GM, it would be interesting to find out how many GMs with playoff-caliber teams would be willing to even give the veteran's minimum, where the league picks up a large percentage of the salary," the same executive said. "Even at the minimum, you're going to go through training camp and one or two months of the season trying to get the experiment to be successful. I would venture to say that 30 percent or less of playoff GMs would have him for the minimum."
That math roughly equates to five or fewer of the 16 playoff teams. The veteran's minimum for a player with 13 years experience is a little more than $1.3 million. Teams would be on the hook for only $825,497, with the league picking up the other $480,958. Iverson made nearly $21 million last season.
Iverson isn't averse to signing a one-year deal and re-entering free agency as part of next summer's star-studded class. The circumstances just have to be right, according to sources close to Iverson. Those circumstances include the team, its personnel, the role he's expected to play and the contract.
A minimum deal sounds like a bargain in these troubled financial times, but there hasn't been an offer out there that's led to Iverson's signature. The Clippers and Grizzlies were interested at one point. Talk surfaced that former coach Larry Brown might welcome AI in Charlotte. Heat president Pat Riley may or may not be debating the Iverson issue.
That lineup isn't exactly the Lakers, Celtics, Cavaliers or Spurs. Iverson did, however, lead the Sixers to the Finals in 2001.
"There are different scenarios impacting AI at the same time," another GM said. "One of them is economic, another is the recent performance of his last two teams -- Denver and Detroit -- and not necessarily his performance, and another is teams protecting space for next summer.
"All of those line up. Another probable factor is what he's asking for. I don't think it is one thing. It's a multitude of factors."
Iverson averaged more than 17 points per game during a 54-game stint with the Pistons cut short by injuries. While the scoring average (17.4) represented a career low and he shot just 41.6 percent, a number of teams could use that kind of boost to their offense.
But points aren't all you get with the one-time No. 1 pick.
"He's such a dominant player that he has a tendency to dominate your style of play," another exec explained. "The last two destinations are basically an example of that. He's used to a certain number of touches.
"It's sort of like Charles Barkley late in his career. They're so dominant and have to play a certain way. They want the ball and want to take the big shot. You almost have no choice but to play their way."
Established teams already have an established pecking order. The word was that AI wanted a starting job with the Clippers. As popular as Iverson is among players, though, the prevailing thought is that many front-office types just don't want him around their players.
"If I'm Gregg Popovich, I don't want to touch the kid with a 10-foot pole," a GM said. "He doesn't guard, he's late to practice and then you have the media hanging on his every word. I can guarantee 100 percent that you're not going to change him. And if he wants to play for a championship-level team, he has to change his game to be a support guy. I don't see that happening.
"If he goes two possessions without touching the ball you're going to see him mope, walk back on defense and make a scene in the huddle because he doesn't roll like that. The last two spots, everything blew up and that's what every GM is looking at."
Detroit wasn't without its inherent problems. Iverson joined an unstable situation with a first-year coach who was eventually fired, the team anchor (Chauncey Billups) had been traded (in the move that brought AI to town) and Rip Hamilton was moved to the bench after Iverson got there.
Iverson understands the holdup in finding a new place of employment, but some frustration has set in. This season is vital for Iverson in rebuilding his reputation. As someone close to Iverson said, "The team that gets AI with a chip on his shoulder is in for something special."
A different general manager scripted a three-pronged scenario in which AI makes sense: a team not near the luxury tax with glaring holes in the roster and a history of taking a chance on "edgy" players.
"[But] if those three things line up and they don't make a move," he said, "then you've got to look at AI as the problem."
Sacramento was suggested as a possible landing spot. The rebuilding Kings are owned by the risk-taking Maloof family and Paul Westphal has the kind of easy-going demeanor that a coach would need to deal with the 2001 MVP.
"You need to have everyone on the same page -- coach, GM and owner," the GM continued. "Generally speaking, you're not going to get all three with AI. You can cross out half the coaches off the bat because of his 'Practice?' comments. How many coaches want to touch that?
"GMs look at the risk-reward: I'm going to be the guy with egg on my face if I put my neck out and it doesn't work. Look at the last two guys he was with -- George Karl and Joe Dumars. Any player would be lucky to play for those guys. Those were high-profile, playoff-caliber teams and it didn't go well. It was a nightmare."
One argument often used to justify signing Iverson is the impact on ticket sales. That's a definite plus, especially in this climate, but one general manager challenged that assertion that perhaps the best little man in league history is still big box office.
"I'd like to see the data on that," he said. "How much does he move the needle?"
That's not always clear. In 2006-07, Iverson's first year in Denver, the Nuggets were 17th in attendance (they were 15th the season before). Last season's team finished 17th in attendance after trading AI to Detroit early in November.
The Pistons, after welcoming Iverson aboard, finished tops in attendance last season. But that was nothing new for them. They led the season before, too, and were No. 1 for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.
Memphis and Charlotte are two teams that could certainly use a shot at the turnstile. But, again, at what cost?
"There's always a team that will do it," a GM concluded. "I don't think he's being iced out. The guy hasn't done anything criminal. There's just a reputation of the way he plays and he practices that he can't live down."
If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an email.
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