Wednesday September 9th, 2009

If you are Allen Iverson, Wednesday is a day for celebration. After the worst season of your professional career, a season in which your presence was viewed as the cause of the demise of one franchise (Detroit) and your absence was touted as one of the reasons for the success of another (Denver), you still managed to squeeze $3.5 million and a chance for redemption out of the Memphis Grizzlies.

If you are a Grizzlies fan, well, you are looking for the nearest blunt instrument to cave your own head in.

Iverson's signing with Memphis is one of the most jaw-dropping moves in recent NBA history. Not because Iverson isn't still a viable player; even in last season's debacle in Detroit, Iverson still managed to score 17.5 points per game. But because Iverson is the last -- repeat, the last -- thing the rebuilding Grizzlies need right now.

Consider: From a distance, Memphis is a franchise that appears to be in dire straights. The Grizzlies haven't won more than 24 games in each of the last three seasons and they have rotated five coaches -- Mike Fratello, Tony Barone, Marc Iavaroni, Johnny Davis and Lionel Hollins -- in and out during that period. They haven't won a playoff game in the team's 14-year history, a drought that figures to extend well into the next decade.

But look closer and you will see that the Grizzlies are several stages into what has been a comprehensive rebuilding process. They have dynamic young talent at the wing positions in O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay. They have a highly touted prospect at point guard in Mike Conley. They have a tough, physical center in Marc Gasol and a shot-blocking menace-in-the-making in rookie Hasheem Thabeet. The foundation of a championship team? Not yet, but certainly one headed in the right direction.

Not anymore. By adding Iverson (as well as Zach Randolph, who was acquired from the Clippers last month) to the mix, the Grizzlies are risking the long-term health of the franchise for a few short-term rewards. Memphis undoubtedly will win a few more games. It might even crack the 30-win barrier. But all that really means is the Grizzlies will be out of the playoff race by January instead of December and they may jump from the team with the 29th-worst attendance (12,745 per game last season) to one with the 25th-worst.

And at what cost? Iverson is little more than a well-paid mercenary using Memphis to try to revive his stalled career. He will certainly cut into Mayo's and Conley's minutes and likely will take time away from the slimmed-down Marcus Williams, who showed in the Las Vegas summer league that he could be a capable backup point guard.

Iverson will demand shots that should be going to Gay and he will be given key fourth-quarter scoring opportunities that should be going to anyone else. The same things can be said for Randolph, who will eat into Gasol's and Thabeet's minutes and will frustrate his teammates with his unwillingness to pass the ball out of the post and his propensity to launch shots from anywhere inside the half-court line. One of the most frequently repeated lines by NBA coaches is that they hope Randolph makes his first three-pointer -- because that guarantees he will take five more.

It will be interesting to see how Hollins handles the Grizzlies' lineup. In a perfect world, Randolph would slide into the starting power forward spot (with Thabeet coming off the bench) and Iverson would become a Vinny Johnson-like sixth man. Mayo and Conley would continue to start and Gay, one of the top performers at the USA Basketball camp in July, would have the offensive freedom he needs to grow as a scorer. They would run an inside-out offense and get the kind of ball movement that leads to open shots.

But what seems more likely is that Iverson eventually forces his way into the starting lineup and Iverson, Mayo and Randolph battle each other for shot attempts (contested or otherwise) while Gay is left to scrap for leftovers.

Multiple sources say the interest in Iverson came from the owner's box. That makes sense. Because this is not a basketball move, it's a financial one. As basketball moves go, this one is the worst.

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