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David Aldridge

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Allen Iverson couldn't handle coming off the bench for the Grizzlies.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

Iverson, Grizzlies part ways after tumultuous start


Posted Nov 17 2009 6:15AM

The saga of Allen Iverson and the Memphis Grizzlies lasted less than two months. Monday, the two sides agreed to release the 34-year-old from his one-year contract, meaning Iverson will become a free agent when he clears waivers.

Iverson, who'd signed a $3.5 million contract in September, had been away from the team for the past 10 days, taking a leave of absence from the team to deal with what both he and the team called a private family matter. But it also was crystal clear that Iverson was not going to abide by the team's decision that he come off the bench instead of start, and that meant a long-term relationship between the two was ultimately going to be impossible.

"I'm sorry it didnt work out," Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley said by telephone in confirming the agreement, first reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "We had our problems but he also has personal problems. We just couldn't put it together. The people of Memphis are doing to be disturbed and I'm disturbed, because I was really looking forward to it. But that happens in this business sometimes."

Heisley insisted several times that he wasn't angry with Iverson, who only played in three regular season games for Memphis, averaging 12.3 points, after suffering a torn hamstring early in training camp that caused him to miss the whole preseason. Once he came back, Coach Lionel Hollins had chosen to go with Mike Conley as his starter at the point, and preferred Iverson come off the bench. Iverson chafed at that potential role, and said that he had never discussed his place in the rotation with Hollins during his absence.

His third and last game with Memphis was Nov. 6 in Los Angeles against the Lakers. The next day, he requested and was granted a leave of absence, saying he had to attend to a family matter. Heisley met several times with Iverson, his longtime business manager, Gary Moore, as well as his agent, Leon Rose. Heisley spoke with Rose as late as Monday morning trying to reach an accommodation before the team decided to agree to the release.

"He said he had a personal problem and came in to talk to me about that," Heisley said. "I said 'go back and take whatever time you need, and when you're ready you can come back'...I feel like he's being honest with me. I think he respects me. I've leveled with him all down the line. I've always understood that it was going to be very difficult for Allen. He wants to start. He has a reputation as a player

"We made it clear that he would have to earn time because we've moved down the road. He wasn't angry about that. He was disappointed. I don't want you to think I'm not deeply disappointed. I am. But in no way am I going to put it on Allen. If he hadn't been injured during training camp it may have been different, because he would have had a chance to prove that he deserved to play more minutes."

Heisley said his "biggest sorrow" is that fans in Memphis didn't see Iverson play. "They were really looking forward to it, and I'm sure I'm going to get a lot of heat for that," he said. He also insisted that the team's signing of veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley this weekend was completely unrelated to the Iverson issue. He said that if Iverson had come back, the team hoped to play him more at shooting guard, with Tinsley playing the point. Tinsley has been out of basketball for more than a year, after being told by the Indiana Pacers in the spring of 2008 not to return to the team and to stay away from the Pacers' practice facilities while they tried to trade him.

Indiana spent all of last season trying to make a deal, before finally agreeing to settle on the final two years and $14.7 million on his contract, buying him out for more than $10 million.

"I thought there was a good chance he might come back," Heisley said. "But he really did have a personal problem. I don't know what it is and frankly I didn't want to get into it...I guess he just felt rather than try and play, he would step aside. I don't know if somebody's going to pick him up this season. I hope so. Even if he doesn't play for me, I hope he does, because I think he's a fantastic player. I think it's good for Allen and good for the league that he's playing...It just didn't work out. My attitude is I have no ill feelings one way or another. I'm glad he gave us the opportunity to try and make it work."

Iverson came to Memphis after playing most of one season in Detroit, following his trade from the Denver Nuggets to the Pistons early last season. He averaged 17.4 points in 54 games, but had the same issues with the Pistons that he ultimately had with Memphis, saying he would rather retire than come off the bench, as he did late in the season once Richard Hamilton returned from an injury.

The 2001 NBA Most Valuable Player has scored 24,020 regular season points in 13 seasons, led the 76ers to the Finals in 2001 and made nine All-Star teams. He remains one of the league's most popular players, with jersey sales annually among the top 10 players.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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