I’m doing my best to avoid living in the past, and I still don’t understand why Allen Iverson is sifting through role-player money offers from Lottery teams who all want him to come off the bench. One of the best guards in the League (still) is floundering on the free agent market — a player who just one season ago averaged 26 points, seven assists and two steals a night on a playoff team — and he’s being treated like Jannero Pargo.
To answer the question posed in this morning’s Smack, I think A.I. is the victim of an undeserved bad reputation that festered over time and is finally catching up with him. For years, he’s been accused of being a ball-hog, of being a selfish jack-artist who can’t play within a team concept and stunts the development of young players.
However, that’s just not true. For almost his entire run in Philly, Iverson HAD to be a single-minded scorer, and even then, was still a playmaker (7-8 assists per game) by nature. Look at the guys he was asked to carry: Tim Thomas, Derrick Coleman, Jimmy “Too Jacked” Jackson, George Lynch, Theo Ratliff, Matt Geiger, Eric Snow, Tyrone Hill, Matt Harpring, Dikembe Mutombo, Keith Van Horn, Sam Dalembert, Unmotivated Glenn Robinson, Young Andre Iguodala, Gimpy Chris Webber … that’s the bulk of the starters who played alongside Iverson on the Sixers. When recapping A.I.’s career, everyone tends to forget he had to endure the Billy King GM era; it would be tough for any superstar to make it through that without being seen as a ball-hog.
The clip you will see below might be A.I.’s last great “Iversonian” performance, when he dropped 31 points on the Spurs in a national TV game last February. Watching it live, I didn’t see Iverson being any more “selfish” than Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo or Paul Pierce is when they’ve got their game going or their team needs a comeback.
Here’s how I described that game the next morning:
“Last night Iverson played his game, looking like the dude we all watched grow up at Georgetown and in Philly. He was launching everything in the fourth quarter of Pistons/Spurs, as Detroit’s offensive movement came to a complete stop every time Iverson (31 pts, 13-28 FG, 7 asts) got the ball. Aside from the occasional Rasheed Wallace pick, Deeeee-troit basketball consisted of A.I. trying to bust Bruce Bowen or Tony Parker’s ankles while Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess and ‘Sheed stood around and watched … Two things, though: Iverson had to do it, and it was working. You can’t knock A.I. too much for dominating the ball down the stretch, because no one else on his team was helping him out. ‘Sheed went 4-for-17, and Prince, Rip and Rodney Stuckey combined to go 6-for-23. And because A.I. was getting buckets, the Pistons made a fourth-quarter comeback and almost won the game.”
Iverson is better than this. He’s better than the offers he’s getting, better than the roles he’s being asked to accept. Mario Chalmers is good, but what did he do last season that warrants him being handed a starting spot over Iverson? I love Eric Gordon, but he can be a sixth man for a year and it won’t set him back at all. And Mike Conley in Memphis? Come on.
That said, there are scenarios in which A.I. would be best coming off the bench in a Manu Ginobili/Ben Gordon-type role. So I do think he needs to accept some reality and not be totally averse to the idea. But I also forgive A.I. if he’s feeling disrespected right now, because he’s got a good reason.