By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst
Posted Sep 9 2009 9:55PM
Allen Iverson will sign a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Memphis Grizzlies in the next 24 to 48 hours, ending a summer-long pursuit of a team that wanted the 34-year-old's game and cache and would provide him an opportunity for the playing time he still desperately covets.
The contract will have incentives that could make the deal larger, but the Grizzlies will not renounce their rights to guard Juan Carlos Navarro, which would have freed up another $900,000 in salary cap room.
The Grizzlies' braintrust, including owner Michael Heisley, general manager Chris Wallace and head coach Lionel Hollins, flew to Atlanta on Labor Day to make its offer to Iverson, who has a home there and has been training there this summer with NBA TV analyst and former teammate Eric Snow. The meeting went well and after looking over the remaining options, Iverson took the deal.
Iverson confirmed his decision on his Twitter feed Wednesday morning.
"God Chose Memphis as the place that I will continue my career," he wrote. In a post a few minutes later, he said, "I feel that they are committed to developing a winner and I know that I can help them to accomplish that. I feel that I can trust them."
Reached by telephone Wednesday, Heisley said that Iverson verbally committed to the Grizzlies late Tuesday evening.
"He told us he was very interested in playing with the young team we've assembled," Heisley said. "He thought he could help us win and he was looking forward to helping the young players, and helping them to develop. Frankly, I'm ecstatic to have him."
Iverson didn't have a lot of suitors this offseason. Memphis, Miami and Charlotte were most aggressive in their pursuits, but the combination of a cut in next season's cap, down to $57.7 million, along with the prospect of even lower cap and luxury tax numbers for the 2010-11 season, dried up most of the potential marketplace for veterans. Portland, one of the few teams with room this summer, had no interest in Iverson, and the contending teams with mid-level exceptions went in different directions.
Signing a one-year deal will make Iverson an unrestricted free agent next summer, joining a strong free agent class. But Iverson would likely have to wait again next summer like he did this one, as teams line up to woo younger stars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
"We know it's going to be difficult for us to keep him past next year," Heisley said. "But he told us we shouldn't think he's going to just jump at the next opportunity. We have to win."
The 10-time All-Star will be looking to resurrect his career in Memphis, after failing to boost the Nuggets and Pistons into contention the last two seasons. Iverson's teams have not gotten past the first round of the playoffs since 2003, when the 76ers lost to Detroit in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Since then, Iverson has only been in the playoffs three times, not including last season, when he was not on the Pistons' postseason roster.
Iverson said a back injury made it impossible for him to play, and the Pistons concurred, though it also coincided with then-coach Michael Curry's decision to bring Iverson off the bench in favor of starter Richard Hamilton. Iverson chafed at the role and said he would rather retire than come off the bench in the future.
Heisley said that he was giving Iverson a clean slate.
"I don't buy into all of the stuff that's gone on," he said. "I'm not saying none of it happened. Some of it did...but I know Allen is an excellent player. He's going to the Hall of Fame. Pau [Gasol, the former Grizzlies star forward and current Laker] might someday. The city of Memphis is going to be ecstatic to have him. We've never had a Hall of Famer, a guy of Allen's stature playing in Memphis. I feel Allen is going to be outstanding for us."
However, Iverson will expect to start in the backcourt for the Grizzlies, and that would mean benching either bench third-year point guard Mike Conley, Jr., who came on toward the end of last season with Hollins backing him, or second-year shooting guard O.J. Mayo. Both guards need all the reps they can get as they continue their development. After trading Gasol to the Lakers early in 2008, the Grizzlies went back to the drawing board, looking to build a new core group around Conley, Mayo, forward Rudy Gay and center Marc Gasol, Pau's younger brother, who came from Los Angeles in the trade for his older brother.
Memphis added center Hasheem Thabeet and forwards Sam Young and DeMarre Carroll in this year's excellent draft, and acquired forward Zach Randolph from the Clippers in the summer for guard Quentin Richardson. But Randolph, like Iverson, needs a lot of touches to be most effective.
"Your whole team changes when Allen is on it," said an Eastern Conference executive. "And he's not that kind of player anymore."
Of course, Iverson feels differently. He said his jumper was "still very wet" in a Twitter post this past weekend, and has said previously he would "lead by example" on his next team.
Iverson should also positively impact the Grizzlies' business side. Memphis was next to last in the league in average attendance this past season, drawing just more than 12,700 a game to the 18,000-seat FedEx Forum, filling around 70 percent of the available seats, the worst percentage in the league.
But Heisley said that was not his motivation in signing Iverson.
"He said, 'you're not bringing me here to sell tickets, are you? 'Cause I'm not interested,'" Heisley said. "I said no, we want to win ... we want to really be a contending team."
Iverson posted career lows both in scoring average (17.5) and minutes (26.7) last season, mostly with the Pistons, who acquired him from Denver in November in a trade that sent Chauncey Billups to the Nuggets. That Billups and the Nuggets, who had lost in the first round four straight seasons, then went on to the Western Conference finals before falling to the eventual champion Lakers was an even more bitter tonic for the Pistons, who were quickly swept in the first round by Cleveland.
But Iverson remains one of the league's most popular and iconic players. His Pistons jersey was the fifth-highest seller among individual jerseys at the NBA Store in New York last season, trailing only Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kevin Garnett. And Heisley believes that Iverson will fit right in with Memphians and not overwhelm them with his outsized personality.
"I think Allen will get the kind of attention in Memphis that he did in Philadelphia," Heisley said. "I think he will be a major, major figure in the city. I think Allen will do the right things. I think people will be very surprised around the league."
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