☆NBA.com: Iverson, Grizzlies end stint together after 3 games
The Allen Iverson experiment with the Memphis Grizzlies is over.
The Memphis Grizzlies announced Monday in a statement that the team has ended its one-year contract with the 10-time All-Star and former league MVP in what it called a mutual agreement.
Iverson began an indefinite leave of absence on Nov. 7 to deal with a personal issue after playing only three games with Memphis, all in California.
General manager Chris Wallace says they agreed Iverson is stepping away from the game to focus on those personal matters.
Wallace says the Grizzlies wish Iverson the best.
☆NBA.com: Iverson, Grizzlies part ways after tumultuous start
The saga of Allen Iverson and the Memphis Grizzlies lasted less than two months. Monday, the two sides agreed to release the 34-year-old from his one-year contract, meaning Iverson will become a free agent when he clears waivers.
Iverson, who'd signed a $3.5 million contract in September, had been away from the team for the past 10 days, taking a leave of absence from the team to deal with what both he and the team called a private family matter. But it also was crystal clear that Iverson was not going to abide by the team's decision that he come off the bench instead of start, and that meant a long-term relationship between the two was ultimately going to be impossible.
"I'm sorry it didnt work out," Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley said by telephone in confirming the agreement, first reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "We had our problems but he also has personal problems. We just couldn't put it together. The people of Memphis are doing to be disturbed and I'm disturbed, because I was really looking forward to it. But that happens in this business sometimes."
Heisley insisted several times that he wasn't angry with Iverson, who only played in three regular season games for Memphis, averaging 12.3 points, after suffering a torn hamstring early in training camp that caused him to miss the whole preseason. Once he came back, Coach Lionel Hollins had chosen to go with Mike Conley as his starter at the point, and preferred Iverson come off the bench. Iverson chafed at that potential role, and said that he had never discussed his place in the rotation with Hollins during his absence.
His third and last game with Memphis was Nov. 6 in Los Angeles against the Lakers. The next day, he requested and was granted a leave of absence, saying he had to attend to a family matter. Heisley met several times with Iverson, his longtime business manager, Gary Moore, as well as his agent, Leon Rose. Heisley spoke with Rose as late as Monday morning trying to reach an accommodation before the team decided to agree to the release.
"He said he had a personal problem and came in to talk to me about that," Heisley said. "I said 'go back and take whatever time you need, and when you're ready you can come back'...I feel like he's being honest with me. I think he respects me. I've leveled with him all down the line. I've always understood that it was going to be very difficult for Allen. He wants to start. He has a reputation as a player
"We made it clear that he would have to earn time because we've moved down the road. He wasn't angry about that. He was disappointed. I don't want you to think I'm not deeply disappointed. I am. But in no way am I going to put it on Allen. If he hadn't been injured during training camp it may have been different, because he would have had a chance to prove that he deserved to play more minutes."
Heisley said his "biggest sorrow" is that fans in Memphis didn't see Iverson play. "They were really looking forward to it, and I'm sure I'm going to get a lot of heat for that," he said. He also insisted that the team's signing of veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley this weekend was completely unrelated to the Iverson issue. He said that if Iverson had come back, the team hoped to play him more at shooting guard, with Tinsley playing the point. Tinsley has been out of basketball for more than a year, after being told by the Indiana Pacers in the spring of 2008 not to return to the team and to stay away from the Pacers' practice facilities while they tried to trade him.
Indiana spent all of last season trying to make a deal, before finally agreeing to settle on the final two years and $14.7 million on his contract, buying him out for more than $10 million.
"I thought there was a good chance he might come back," Heisley said. "But he really did have a personal problem. I don't know what it is and frankly I didn't want to get into it...I guess he just felt rather than try and play, he would step aside. I don't know if somebody's going to pick him up this season. I hope so. Even if he doesn't play for me, I hope he does, because I think he's a fantastic player. I think it's good for Allen and good for the league that he's playing...It just didn't work out. My attitude is I have no ill feelings one way or another. I'm glad he gave us the opportunity to try and make it work."
Iverson came to Memphis after playing most of one season in Detroit, following his trade from the Denver Nuggets to the Pistons early last season. He averaged 17.4 points in 54 games, but had the same issues with the Pistons that he ultimately had with Memphis, saying he would rather retire than come off the bench, as he did late in the season once Richard Hamilton returned from an injury.
The 2001 NBA Most Valuable Player has scored 24,020 regular season points in 13 seasons, led the 76ers to the Finals in 2001 and made nine All-Star teams. He remains one of the league's most popular players, with jersey sales annually among the top 10 players.
☆NBA.com: Grizzlies get off easy with Iverson's prompt exit
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.