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Scott Howard-Cooper

Iverson's exit may have closed Pandora's box for the Memphis Grizzlies
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

Grizzlies get off easy with Iverson's prompt exit

Posted Nov 17 2009 6:14AM

Allen Iverson and the Grizzlies finally got around to being realistic Monday and ended their brief and ill-advised fling after three telling games, leaving Iverson to find his next new start and Memphis to count its blessings.

It only reads like a bad outcome. In truth, the Grizz got off easy compared to what could have happened if Iverson had stayed the season and left his me-first imprint on a young roster and took minutes, and maybe even the starting job, from 22-year-old point guard Mike Conley.

About a week on the active roster was tough enough for all concerned. A.I. looked bad for speaking out about his reserve role when coach Lionel Hollins never permanently put him in that corner in the first place, Hollins looked bad for stressing out over simple questions regarding Iverson, and everyone from the Grizzlies management to Iverson looked bad for joining hands without having discussed his role.

That's the inexcusable part, that the summer conversations never included whether he would start or come off the bench. The entire drama could have been avoided. How the Grizzlies and Iverson were the only ones who didn't see the showdown coming remains the unanswered question, more for the organization that had the chance to head off the inevitable conflict. Remember, it took all of one game for Iverson to put the screws to them about starting. That's not the steam-letting of a frustrated player. That's someone arriving with an expectation.

"If I'm a reserve, yeah I'll be disappointed," he said Nov. 2 in Sacramento, Calif., after playing behind Conley in his Grizzlies debut. "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."

He added: "I don't think it has anything to do with me being selfish or anything like that. 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."

Contrary to subsequent spin from those who were not there in the corner of the Arco Arena visitor's locker room, Iverson spoke in even tones. It was no rant. That made it worse, though. Emotional outbursts happen everywhere, but his was a lengthy, thoughtful answer that signaled a clear lack of acceptance.

Iverson played 18 minutes that night against the Kings, 28 against the Warriors two nights later and 21 against the Lakers two nights after that in what would be his last appearance, without a home game that could have been a much-needed attendance boost. An average of 22.3 minutes in the first three games back from a hamstring injury that cost him the entire exhibition schedule and the opening three contests of the regular season is hardly being shoved in the corner.

Iverson left the team Nov. 7 to attend to what the team called a personal matter and gave him space and public support until owner Michael Heisley rightly halted the uncertainty by telling the Memphis Commercial Appeal that the veteran guard needs to make a decision about coming back or staying away for good. The call, not surprisingly, was to breakup.

Iverson will obviously listen to offers, but it's just as likely the contenders will stay away, for the same reason they did in the summer when A.I. took the Memphis offer only because he lacked options. (That should have told the Grizzlies something.) Maybe a team made desperate by injury or sweating the playoff roster calls. It's also possible that maybe not.

But this is more freedom for the Grizzlies, who need a positive climate and months of heavy minutes for Conley to decide in his third season if he is the point guard for the future. Conley himself calls it his make-or-break campaign -- "I feel like this season is the season I need to go out and prove how valuable I am to this team and how valuable I can be in this league. It's something I want to do and try to just go out there with a chip on my shoulder." Short-timer Iverson starting, even if he out-played Conley, was the last thing the Grizz needed if developing the big picture meant anything.

This was their escape more than his. This was getting off easy.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here.

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