Tuesday , Nov , 03 , 2009 Christopher Sells

Me, Myself and Iverson

Allen Iverson only has one game under his belt so far this season, but he’s already causing problems by complaining about his role as a sub. Sadly, this his new beginning in Memphis may be the beginning of the end of his illustrious career.

Me, Myself and IversonIt’s probably too early to declare Allen Iverson’s time in Memphis as a failure, but it looks like things might be headed in that direction.

Is that too strong a statement  to make after a player’s first game with a team? In most cases it would be, but Iverson came into this season with baggage. After the whole fiasco in Detroit where he refused to come off of the bench, teams were reluctant to sign him in the offseason. The teams that did show interest made it clear that he would not be a starter. The Grizzlies were one of those teams. Iverson had reportedly agreed to this before signing his contract, but that was then. This is now:

"I am 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. … The subject never came up in my career until everything happened in Detroit last year. No one talked about me being a sub or anything like that until last year. In all of the other years of my career it never came up. I’ve been a starter on All-Star teams, Olympic teams and NBA Finals teams."

So why did you agree to play for a team that wanted you to be what you aren’t, AI? The answer to that question is that no team wanted him as a starter. We all thought that he had gotten past the state of mind that led him to declare that he’d rather retire than come off the bench, but it appears that we were deceived. Iverson still wants to start and felt the need to let the assembled media know.

His argument that he has always been a starter only holds so much weight. All-Star game starting positions are given by fan voting, which means it’s a popularity contest and not necessarily a declaration of superior talent. He was the centerpiece of an NBA Finals team (he was also the league MVP that year) but that was nearly a decade ago. He was a starter on an Olympic team that performed so poorly that the USA Basketball committee decided to revamp the entire process so that it would never happen again.

Iverson has to face facts: He’s not a youngster anymore. That blinding quickness has slowed some. He isn’t going to survive driving into the lane and taking hits when he gets to the rim. He’s not the best player on the team and coaches aren’t going to tailor their game plans to suit his style of play. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins told us so last night:

"He hasn’t even been with the team until just a couple of days ago. He’s going to come off the bench. He hasn’t played all preseason, hasn’t played the three regular-season games [leading up to this one]. He only practiced three days in training camp before he got hurt so there’s no way I would trot him out there in a starting role."

That reasoning makes complete sense and Iverson should understand that. What Hollins didn’t say– and what Iverson will not take so well– is that the team’s starting shooting guard, OJ Mayo, is a better player than Iverson right now. Mayo put up 40 over the weekend and has averages of 22.3, 5.3 and 3.5. And at 6’4", Mayo isn’t an instant mismatch on defense.

In a perfect world, AI would embrace this bench role as an opportunity to show that the game hasn’t passed him by. He could be the first guy off the bench and provide a scoring spark for the team. He could start handling the ball a bit more so that teams weren’t tempted to attack the six-foot guard playing the 2. He could be the steadying veteran presence in a locker room with an average age of 25. He could set himself up to play with a winner instead of the cellar-dwelling Grizzlies, where he’ll have no chance at the Playoffs. Instead, he’s showing us all that he’s not as concerned about the team as he is about himself. He’s showing us all the behavior that led him to be branded "Me, Myself and Iverson" many years ago.

"Yeah I’ll be disappointed [if I’m a sub this season]. 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. … To answer the question, No, I’m not a bench player. I’m not a sixth man. Go look at my resume and that will show you that I’m not a sixth man."

That same resume will show that you’re not a team player and that you’re unable to adjust to different situations. And after this season, that resume will likely read, "Former NBA Player." It might be too early to make such a declaration. But it looks like things are headed in that direction.