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David Aldridge

The Dish

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Best move for unhappy AI may be reunion with old adversary

By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Apr 2 2009 1:38PM

There's only one place for Allen Iverson to go when this nightmare of a season ends for both he and the Detroit Pistons.

No one with the slightest bit of knowledge about Iverson and his pride can be surprised that he's chafing at coming off the bench, that he can't accept any notion that he's no longer worthy of starter's minutes -- that he is so repulsed by the idea that he'd retire before agreeing to do it again, as NBA.com's Rob Peterson disclosed after seeing AI in New Jersey Wednesday.

It doesn't matter that the Pistons are a veteran team that's won the championship Iverson says he craves, and might still be able to conjure up another run next season with a couple roster tweaks. It doesn't matter that Rip Hamilton is proud, too, and has carried water for the franchise a lot longer than Iverson. Nor does it matter that the Pistons' commitment to second-year guard Rodney Stuckey is unbending, or that backup point Will Bynum has played more effectively of late.

Iverson doesn't care about that. He couldn't have played 13 NBA seasons otherwise.

The problems with the Pistons

You think a shrinking violet could throw his alleged 5-foot-10, 160-pound frame around for this long, in this league, without a supreme arrogance? Without the mental certainty that, come hell or high water, he could score on any player, any defense, any time, anywhere? You take that away from Iverson and he's finished.

Still, Hamilton's earned a lot of stripes in the Pistons' locker room, and when Pistons coach Michael Curry chose to keep Hamilton coming off the bench following a groin injury, he nearly lost his entire team. It didn't matter that Hamilton actually played well with the second unit.

Curry tried playing Iverson, Hamilton and Stuckey together, with Tayshaun Prince moving to power forward. That only resulted in Prince getting banged up and the Pistons getting bludgeoned on the glass. Amir Johnson and Kwame Brown didn't step up, and Antonio McDyess, shipped to Denver in the Chauncey Billups trade, was gone for a month before he could re-sign with Detroit.

"I thought Stuckey at the one, with him and Rip in the backcourt, could work well," Curry said last week. "Maybe if we had Dice during that stretch things could have worked better. But Stuckey was probably playing the best basketball of the three at the time. The thing is not letting it be personal. I have to make the best basketball decision."

But it is impossible for it not to be personal with Iverson, as Curry learned when he told AI he would be the one coming off the bench.

"That discussion was hard for him," Curry said. "It was just as hard to have that discussion with Rip. They've both been successful in this league."

Detroit's veterans are as tight a group as I've ever been around. Their belief in one another is ironclad. That's why trading Billups, the leader of the pack, had such a shattering effect. And when Hamilton was benched, the feeling among them was clear: That ain't right.

Iverson is still not budging in his beliefs.

"I would leave the game before I do this," Iverson said after playing just 17 minutes in New Jersey. "I can't be effective like I know I can, playing this way."

A place for The Answer

And so the gamble that Joe Dumars took, that a hungry Iverson could mesh with his aging vets and jerry-rig their way to contention in the East has failed. But the Pistons will move on. Come July 1, Iverson's $20.8 million will come off Detroit's books, and Dumars can promptly drop an offer sheet on Utah's Paul Millsap or New York's David Lee. Either way, Dumars wins. If Utah matches a sheet on Milsap, it would be far less likely to re-sign Carlos Boozer, another potential Detroit target. If New York matches a sheet on Lee, its plans to be a 2010 player will be severely compromised, eliminating a potential Detroit rival should Dumars decide to roll over his cap room until then.

And Iverson? He can go to the one place that would welcome his 20-25 points a night with open arms, a defensive-heavy team that needs some pop, and could make a starting spot available, with a coach that knows him better than anyone.

And that's ... Charlotte.

AI and LB, together again.

David, are you nuts? Larry Brown and Iverson feuded like a sack of wet cats in Philly. Brown said, 'He goes or I go.' Iverson said, 'I can't play for this man.' They also had other words about each other, most of which can't be printed here.

All true. And irrelevant.

Both Iverson and Brown are at different points in their lives than they were seven years ago, when Brown left the 76ers to take the Pistons' job. Brown is 68. If Charlotte isn't his last coaching stop, he can see it from there. There have been no long-term projects with Brown, and there certainly isn't one now. It's about winning as much as possible as soon as possible. He's got the Bobcats at the edge of the Eastern Conference playoff race, but Charlotte may come up a little short. With a healthy, committed Iverson next season, Charlotte becomes a factor. The more you roll it around in your noggin, the more you realize that Charlotte may be the only place AI can land next year.

At 33, Iverson's days as an eight-figure earner are over. The teams that will have that kind of cap room (Memphis, Sacramento, Oklahoma City) have no intention of spending it on him, if they spend it at all. The real contenders -- Cleveland, Boston, and the Lakers -- don't need to take the gamble of bringing AI aboard. San Antonio, Utah and New Orleans have lethal primary ballhandlers that don't need to share the rock. Iverson wouldn't go the mediocre route in Golden State, Phoenix or Dallas. He'd be a bad fit in Houston with Yao Ming, and he's too small to pair with Dwyane Wade in Miami.

Orlando? The Magic has the right mix surrounding Dwight Howard, and is grooming Courtney Lee at the two. Besides, general manager Otis Smith is a no-drama kind of executive. Portland's looking for a pure point guard, not a gunner.

Philly, Detroit and Denver are obviously out. So is Indiana; there's mutual dislike between Iverson and Pacers fans, dating to a couple of ugly incidents involving epithets tossed Iverson's way when he was in Philly. Larry Bird did tell me many years ago he'd love to have a competitor like AI on his team, but it won't happen.

Milwaukee? Minnesota? No.

Atlanta and Washington both have budget issues (the Hawks have to re-sign Marvin Williams and Mike Bibby; the Wizards are already knee-deep into the luxury tax) that would preclude signing Iverson, even if they wanted to.

New York? Chicago? The Clippers? You could make a case that Iverson could help each team, for different reasons, but the Knicks and Bulls are hoping to be major players in 2010, and it's doubtful Iverson would agree to be a one-year rental. The Clippers may be a train wreck, but they have a promising two in Eric Gordon, and until they move Baron Davis, there's no room in the backcourt.

You can make an argument for New Jersey -- if the Nets have a deal for Vince Carter in their back pocket. Devin Harris is big enough to guard twos, Iverson would be close enough to the New York market and Lord knows the Nets desperately need a draw at the gate. Toronto may have an opening if the Raptors don't get Anthony Parker and Joey Graham re-signed, and the Raptors need to add as much talent around Chris Bosh as possible. But I think both are longshots even if there was real interest.

Trust me. Charlotte makes the most sense.

Why this might just work

The Bobcats have gotten rid of most of their underachieving youngsters, and they're closer to being good than you may believe. They've swept the Lakers this season and should have taken the Celtics on Wednesday in Boston. They now have a veteran core, with Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, Vlad Radmanovic, DeSagana Diop and Juwan Howard all joining Emeka Okafor and Gerald Wallace this season. But other than Radmanovic and Wallace, none of these guys is a scorer. Diaw could be, but he's proven he's more comfortable facilitating others. D.J. Augustin is the future at the point, but have you known Brown to be the patient type at that position?

Bell is precisely the kind of two guard -- one who can make open shots, but whose forte is defense, and who is big enough to guard the other team's best backcourt scorer -- that plays best with Iverson.

Charlotte -- five hours down the road from Iverson's hometown, Newport News, Va. - -is 29th in the league in scoring and 19th in free-throw attempts. Iverson is still averaging 17.7 points this season and more than six free throws per game, which would put him just behind Wallace for the team lead. And only a recent uptick in attendance has Charlotte ranking 26th in average gate. Bob Johnson still needs someone to sell tickets in his beautiful new building.

More than the statistics, Iverson makes sense in Charlotte for the very reason so many others would say he doesn't -- his history with Brown. Iverson knows how Brown pushes his buttons, but he also knows Brown is the best coach he's ever played for. Brown knows that dealing with Iverson is a handful for a coach, but he's already done it. And he also knows no one wants to win more; changing the culture of losing in Charlotte has been one of Brown's toughest problems.

For all the times they were at each other's throats, the one memory that has always stood out to me came right after the 2001 All-Star game, in D.C., when Brown was coaching the East squad. Iverson and Stephon Marbury led a furious comeback in the fourth quarter, the East won in the final seconds and Iverson got the MVP award. And afterward, Iverson would only do interviews if Brown was at his side.

"Where my coach at?," Iverson said, over and over, until Brown came by.

Brown is Iverson's coach. Iverson is Brown's best chance to go out a winner. One of the few people with the gravitas to handle both of their immense egos and pride just happens to be the managing member of basketball operations for the Bobcats, Michael Jordan.

In Philly, Pat Croce was the boss, just tough and crazy enough to keep Iverson and Brown together for six years. But Croce didn't have the ultimate hammer. "You see this hand?" Croce asked me in 1996. "It's naked, David. And I want a ring on it."

Guess who has six of those?

Mailing it in

Letters, we get letters. Well, actually, e-mails:

How come the Kings ended up in this mess? I know once Vlade left that was the end for Peja [Stojakovic] and Hedo [Turkoglu], but I just can't see what they're doing. For me personally I feel like KMart is overrated, on a quality team he'd be a role player, kinda like a Rip Hamilton. The team (is) struggling, I really like Spencer [Hawes] and JT (Jason Thompson), but losing guys like [John} Salmons just seems like a step backwards. If they're freeing up cash I have no idea who for. It's not like LeBron loves the cowbells.
-- Danny Williamson, Brighton, England

I'm not sure Danny said anything wrong here, other than calling Kevin Martin overrated; it's more that he's overpaid. What's happened in Sacramento is sad. The owners, the Maloof Brothers, haven't been immune to the economic downturn, and they're cutting costs at all costs; hence the trade-deadline fire sale. The Kings desperately need an injection of young, talented, cheap and exciting. Tyreke Evans would be perfect here.

I'm an avid Jazz fan since 1992 when I was just 6 years old, but lately I've taken quite a liking to Danny Granger's play and his demeanor on the court. I've read a few articles, but I would love to read an interview or a story from your perspective.
-- Rob Hennefer

I had the pleasure of sitting on the set of The Beat during All-Star Weekend in Phoenix with Danny Granger Sr., Danny's father. John Thompson had done a piece on the Granger family for TNT and we all watched it together. Danny Sr. raised his three children in a tough section of Metairie, La., and kept the drug dealers and gang bangers away from his family by sheer will and determination. Danny Jr. had the grades to go to Yale, but chose to seek a pro career in basketball. His brother is a musician and backup singer for Alicia Keys and his sister is an engineer. What a bunch of slackers those Grangers are.

While your article on Gilbert Arenas's control over the Wizards' future is correct in just about every way, it seems to me that you think that the franchise is going to spiral downward with Arenas at the point.
-- William Caverly

To the contrary; I think the Wizards will be back in the playoffs with a healthy Arenas next season. But they won't be a contender until Arenas makes the same commitment to defense that he does to offense.

Send your best wishes, comments and snark to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. Please include full name and city. E-mailers whose notes are chosen will win a brand new car! (Actually, they won't. No car. But they might be published.)

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