Posted Nov 3 2009 2:42PM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- There was nothing blatantly apparent to be learned from the debut, nothing in the spot duty Monday at Arco Arena to indicate whether Allen Iverson took his first step in resuscitating his career or simply took part in the opening night of his farewell tour.
That is the biggest thing to take from Iverson's first appearance with the Grizzlies. That there is nothing concrete to take from it.
Memphis is not contending for the playoffs, Iverson is not a candidate for the scoring title and so one game, a 127-116 overtime loss to the Kings, has little impact and even less in the way of Answer answers. Eighteen minutes off the bench -- five in the first quarter, five in the third, seven in the fourth and one in the extra period -- 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting and zero significance beyond his first appearance in a new uniform after missing all eight exhibition games and the first three of the regular season with a partially torn left hamstring.
You want hard news? The leg came through the night fine. There's the significance.
"I had no problems," he reported. "I had a problem with my butt at this point, from sitting on the bench so long. That's the only thing I've got a problem with."
Oh. There is that. With Iverson, there's always something.
The risky free-agent union of a veteran in need of a parachute and a team that needs to develop its prospects is all about the long term. It's one of the best big-picture stories in the league because the Grizzlies are lottery regulars and therefore have to be about the big picture. Except that they signed Iverson and traded for Zach Randolph, two guys who may deliver a few extra wins, just not enough to get Memphis within telescope range of the playoffs. So the Grizzlies are, essentially, giving away minutes that could go to a younger player with a chance to be around in a couple years.
Mike Conley has Iverson over his shoulder at point guard. Competition is fine, with even Conley conceding Iverson's presence is forcing him to be more focused than the past two years. Conley, the No. 4 pick in 2007, said he was "excited" when he got the news that AI was joining up.
But Iverson, as many suspected and many others predicted, isn't going to be happy coming off the bench.
"If I'm a reserve, yeah I'll be disappointed," Iverson said. "I'm not a reserve basketball player. I've never been a reserve all my life and I'm not going to start looking at myself as a reserve, because that's something for ya'll people in the media to talk about. It's only a big issue when ya'll talk about it. The subject never, ever came up in my whole career until everything happened in Detroit last year. None of you guys talked about me being a sub or anything like that until it happened last year. All of the other years of my career, you never said it, you never brought it up. I've been starting on All-Star teams, Olympic teams, Finals teams, everything. It's just a big deal now, something to talk about now, (since) it happened last year.
"I think it's something that people should let go. But to answer your question, no, I'm not a bench player. I'm not a sixth man. Go look at my resume and that'll show you that I'm not a sixth man."
Welcome to the Grizzlies' concerns come to life. On Iverson's first night in uniform.
"I don't think it has anything to do with me being selfish or anything like that," he said. "It's just the fact that this is who I am. I don't want to change what gave me all the success that I've had since I've been in this league. I'm not a sixth man, and that's that."
The harmony was fun while it lasted; all couple hours of it. Coach Lionel Hollins, asked if Iverson has a chance to contend for the starting job in time, with the improved rhythm and conditioning that should come with game action, said, "It's not even about starting-job in time. It's about going out and winning the game. Whatever role Allen is in, Allen will flourish." Hollins dodged the question about the Answer, in other words.
It was impossible to address the lineup issue off Monday's game. It was just one game, after all. The certainties by the end of the night inside Arco Arena were simply that Iverson's leg felt good and that he has no intention of quietly settling into life as a backup.
The real impact of Iverson's arrival and his stance on starting won't be known until much deeper in the schedule.
This will be about the long-term effects.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here.
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