Britt Robson
Tuesday November 17th, 2009

It usually takes at least 10 games before dysfunctional NBA franchises discover the wishful thinking of the offseason isn't going to pan out and belatedly begin scrambling the mix. In that sense, Memphis, Golden State and Charlotte were right on cue Monday with personnel moves that involved this young season's poster problem children, Allen Iverson and Stephen Jackson.

There are no genuine winners arising from this changed landscape, only, at best, teams that will be lesser losers in the short term, while still facing long-term woe. Let's take a look at each team ...

The Grizzlies: That Memphis reached agreement with Iverson to terminate his contract after just three games for him is a net plus for the fitfully rebuilding franchise on the court, but another loss for its much-maligned ownership and front office. All but a few of those paying attention thought Iverson and Memphis was a bad match, but the resulting farce of his brief tenure was even more embarrassing than most people anticipated. Just last season, Iverson helped torpedo the Pistons' run of success by demanding to start ahead of Rip Hamilton. Now we find neither Iverson nor Grizzlies management made it abundantly clear what would or wouldn't be tolerated before he signed his contract? That's the opposite of due diligence; that's due negligence.

The absurdity continues with discussions over where Iverson will land next. The once-indomitable MVP and four-time NBA scoring leader has been on four teams over the past three years, and arguably has weakened every one during that time with his corroded skills and selfish mind-set. There are murmurs that the Knicks might take a chance on him, a cynical marketing ploy that would further insult the high basketball IQ of fans at Madison Square Garden.

Bottom line, if you are a bad team, you are acquiring Iverson simply to inflate your gate receipts by suckering in the casual fan who cares more about the celebrity than the caliber of play. And if you're a good team, the rewards of tapping into Iverson's quickness and competitive fire are outweighed by the risks of his egocentric impact on the rest of the team. The best-case scenario is that it's the end of the line for Iverson and we can soon be extolling the sum of his fabulous career rather than wondering if he'll find another way to besmirch it.

The Bobcats: While the Iverson shenanigans have been farcical, Monday's trade sending Stephen Jackson and Acie Law from the Warriors to Charlotte in exchange for Raja Bell and Vladimir Radmanovic seems like another plot twist in a Shakespearean drama. Certainly Jackson and the affected coaches, Don Nelson and Larry Brown, have all become characters ripe for grandiloquent soliloquies from the theater stage. Too bad that the title of the production should be Much Ado About Nothing.

While conventional wisdom may hold that the Bobcats "won" the deal by getting the best player, the baggage Jackson brings to Charlotte adds a layer of risk that could undermine his impact. Frequently foolish but not stupid, Jackson will be on his best behavior with the Bobcats early, knowing he faces the formidable task of rehabilitating an image damaged and repaired repeatedly by his own actions.

After being suspended for his role in the infamous Palace brawl and then again for a subsequent incident in which he fired a gun outside an Indianapolis strip club, Jackson was shipped to Golden State. Jackson took to his new surroundings well, helping spark the Warriors' upset of the top-seeded Mavericks in the 2007 playoffs. He was named team captain and received league awards for his work in the community. And last year, he was rewarded with a three-year, $28 million contract extension that doesn't kick in until next season.

Yet during the summer, Jackson demanded to be traded to a "winning team" and began a feud with Nelson that left both men much diminished by their mutual bile and pettiness.

Does Charlotte really want to pay $34 million (a figure that includes the rest of this year's contract) through 2013 for a player with such an untrustworthy back story? Sure, Jackson is a long, rugged wing defender and prolific scorer. But temperamentally, he's a walking stick of dynamite, a player who craves a position of leadership, yet reserves the right to renege on those duties if he feels slighted in any way. He can be charming and inspirational: His coaches, including Nelson, have often sung his praises and attested to his team-oriented character. Then Jackson does something that blatantly contradicts all the compliments.

Now it is Brown's turn to try to manage Jackson. Brown has told the Charlotte media that he knows how to deal with troubled players, specifically by being honest with them. The obvious parallel, ironically enough, is Brown's productive relationship with Iverson. But the glory days for Brown and Iverson were nine years ago, before an NBA title in Detroit ratified Brown's Hall of Fame credentials. His time with the Knicks and now Charlotte has seen Brown's unyielding standard of "playing the right way" slip from the coach's once-airtight persona.

In some respects, fireworks between Brown and Jackson -- at least on the level that they once occurred between Brown and Iverson -- would be good news for the Bobcats, as both men are at their best when challenged by a foil they respect. But the dynamics are unwieldy. Brown will be 73 when Jackson's contract expires. Both men probably know that, best-case scenario, the deepest they can take this team is the second round of the playoffs. Both have done more, expect more, and are running out of time. The most likely outcome between them, then, is lassitude in the face of mediocrity followed by, inevitably, damaging frustration.

The Warriors: Amid such high drama, the dysfunctional parlor game that passes for Nelson's player rotation in Golden State rates only a footnote in Monday's dealings. Bell is a wonderful defender of excellent character, playing despite a partially torn ligament in his wrist. How he responds to the Warriors' funhouse -- where, given Nellie's experimenting, he may end up at power forward, or, as Corey Maggette did recently against Milwaukee, even center -- is anybody's guess (mine is that Bell will opt for wrist surgery before too long). If there is a winner in all of this, it is Radmanovic, an indifferent defender who loves to chuck up three-pointers. He'll fit right in.

• Imagine a game in which an elite NBA player -- Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony -- touches the ball for about two seconds and doesn't shoot in the final three minutes of a one-point loss on the road. Wouldn't happen, right? And if it did, there would be bellowing and cursing in the locker room and pointed questions asked by the media.

But it happened to Chris Bosh and the Raptors at Phoenix on Sunday, and nobody squawked much about the strategy of ignoring Bosh in favor of Hedo Turkoglu, who jacked up the club's final four shots -- the last two of them misses -- in a 101-100 loss. On the next-to-last possession, Bosh broke wide open on a high pick-and-roll and Turkoglu still elected for a three-pointer (which missed). Given that Turkoglu actually performs much worse in the clutch than his reputation suggests, and that Bosh has been more prolific than Wade or LeBron at getting to the free-throw line (a league-best 12.9 attempts per game), the Raptors should have taken their chances with the beefed-up Bosh (who added 15 pounds to his 6-foot-10 frame during the offseason) against the likes of Amar'e Stoudemire and Channing Frye in the low block when down a point.

• In one of the season's bigger surprises, the Knicks, coached by the guru of go-go, Mike D'Antoni, rank 29th in both fast-break points per game and percentage of points scored off the fast break. Even if we concede that they get their share of early-offense baskets that might not count in the fast-break totals, the Knicks' average of 8.6 fast-break points is a shockingly low number for a D'Antoni-coached team, and reaffirms New York's need for outlet-oriented rebounders and ball-handlers who can facilitate an efficient flow on the fly.

J.J. Hickson has helped fuel the resurgent Cavs, who are 4-0 since the second-year forward joined the starting lineup. In addition to athletic low-post defense, Hickson is filling the role increasingly vacated by Delonte West -- that of bringing non-LeBron movement to an offense that otherwise relies too much on stationary low-post dump-ins and spot-up three-pointers as alternatives to James. Against Miami last Thursday, four different Cavs had assists on baskets by Hickson, who also scored three hoops unassisted. The sharing was even more pronounced against Utah two days later, with four different Cavs assisting Hickson's first four buckets and then a fifth, LeBron, feeding his final three hoops in the last quarter and a half of the game. Hickson, who is averaging 13.3 points (on 58.8 percent shooting) in his four starts, may have found his niche in Cleveland.

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