TrueHoop: Allen Iverson

Monday Bullets

October, 8, 2012
10/08/12
3:17
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Many NBA teams divvy up minutes to young players based on which guys have guaranteed contracts. Sometimes this results in more promising and/or productive players getting buried on the depth chart behind someone the front office and coaching staff feels has to play in order to justify that deal. The San Antonio Spurs are not one of those teams.
  • A fact, then a question: Allen Iverson missed a ton of shots as an NBA player. In fact, nobody in history racked up more seasons of 1,000 misses (six) than Iverson. Here's the question: Is that stat damning in and of itself? Or does it require a little more context, namely, was the player able to compensate in other areas?
  • Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili poses an interesting question for your NBA coffee klatch: "How much better can Kevin Durant really get?" I feel like there's a ton of room for growth on the defensive side of the ball, not just because Durant is tireless in his pursuit of mastery, but that body of his, once he learns how to use it, lends itself to perimeter stoppage.
  • My 89-year-old grandfather has, in the words of Howard Beale after his crack-up in "Network," "run out of bull****." You probably have older relatives who fall into this category. You hang around this world long enough and you get to a certain point in life and career where you find that filter between private thoughts and public utterances to be unnecessary. Having observed Rick Adelman up close and in person, Zach Harper senses that's the case with the Timberwolves' veteran coach.
  • Some more evidence that Martell Webster could be a useful player for a team that knows how to maximize his good-at-a-lot-of-stuff-but-great-at-nothing skill set. Could Randy Wittman's Wizards be that team?
  • Love this Kelvin Sampson quote picked up by Jason Friedman at Rockets' practice: "Basketball is not a game of great plays; it's a game of eliminating mistakes." This isn't scintillating marketing material for the NBA, but when you peruse the list of the NBA's most efficient offenses, you're more likely than not to find teams that contain turnovers at the top. In the same vein, teams that play the best brand of defenses often don't have a lineup of stoppers. They simply rotate well, make smart decisions on pick-and-roll coverages and gamble selectively. And that's why the oldsters prosper in June.
  • Phoenix Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby asks what he feels is a rhetorical question of Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns, but one that actually has a range of legitimate answers: "What do you want us to do? Do you want us to be bad so we can get good? Are you willing to live through two, three, four seasons?" Is living through two, three and four seasons of 34-win ball a decidedly different experience than enduring two, three or four seasons of 23-win ball? Babby continues: “How do you go to work every day and how do you lead a group of people both in an organization and players playing to make their living when either the conscious message or the subliminal message is ‘We want to lose’? ... I don’t know how to do that. So does that condemn us to purgatory for longer? I hope not. Could you come to work every day if you thought your boss was trying to be bad? How long does that take and how many front offices use it as an excuse?”
  • Now throwing his hat in the right for the NBA's 2012-13 Most Improved Player award: Eric Bledsoe. The gritty third-year guard was the talk of Vegas in the Clippers' preseason loss to Denver on Saturday night. He scored 25 points (12-for-17 from the field), gobbled up eight rebounds and tallied five steals. Charlie Widdoes of ClipperBlog: "Simply put, last night marked the continuation of a streak in which he has done anything and everything the team could possibly ask of him. Starting in last year’s playoffs, to his brief stint in summer league and through last night, he has been their best defender, their best wing scorer, and even their best facilitator."
  • After emerging as League Pass darlings in 2010-11, the Clippers put on the black hat in 2011-12 as a team many fans -- and a slice of NBA players -- love to hate. Count Rudy Gay among those who find the Clippers insufferable, and Chris Paul in particular.
  • Adam Kaufman of No Regard for Human Life offers up another installment in the NBA/Presidential previews: The Atlanta Hawks through the prism of Plains, Georgia native Jimmy Carter.
  • Portland rookie big man Meyers Leonard is learning the piano. He's got some of the beginner standards down, but he really wants to master the theme song to "The Office."
  • Two great tastes that taste great together: Chris Singleton starts his day with a bowl of Fruit Loops and last night's episode of "Dexter."
  • Retired guard T.J. Ford gets set to return to UT-Austin for fall classes.
  • Are you a hoops junkie with a vision for new ways NBA basketball -- and, more specifically, the Dallas Mavericks -- can be covered in a blog format? If so, please reach out to Rob Mahoney at Two Man Game. Mahoney will join Ben Golliver as the new two-man game at Sports Illustrated's Point Forward blog.

LeBron brings the 'Thunder' in Game 2

June, 15, 2012
6/15/12
1:32
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty ImagesLeBron James scored an NBA Finals career-high 32 points in Game 2.
Enough was enough. LeBron James wasn’t ready to let go of this opportunity.

After two previous NBA Finals appearances without a ring, LeBron found his Miami Heat down 1-0 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Coming into the 2012 NBA Finals, LeBron had never scored more than 25 points in 10 previous NBA Finals games. Nobody had more turnovers per game in their NBA Finals career than LeBron. He had averaged 10 fewer points per game in the NBA Finals than all other playoff rounds.

But that has changed.

LeBron scored 32 points in the Heat’s 100-96 Game 2 victory. He has had at least 30 points in both games, setting new NBA Finals career highs in each game.

LeBron had 30 points and nine rebounds in Game 1, so it’s not like he didn’t produce. What was the difference in Game 2?

For one, his right-hand man, Dwyane Wade, came to play. After shooting less than 50 percent in six straight playoff games for the first time in his career, Wade shot 50 percent in Game 2. He was 7-for-19 from the field in Game 1 but a more efficient 10-20 in Game 2.

Despite a furious comeback by the Thunder, James and Wade ensured a Heat victory down the stretch.

James made a 15-foot bank shot with 1:26 left in the fourth quarter to give the Heat a 96-91 lead. Then, with seven seconds remaining and the Heat leading 98-96, LeBron hit two clutch free throws to seal the deal.

Entering Game 2, LeBron was 1-for-3 this postseason on free throws in the final minute of the fourth quarter and overtime in one-possession games. He was 9-for-14 during the 2011-12 regular season and 13-for-18 in his postseason career entering Game 2.

But LeBron, a 74 percent career postseason free-throw shooter entering Game 2, drained two clutch free throws to seal the deal. He was 12-for-12 from the line for the game, marking just the second time in his postseason career he has made at least 12 free throws without a miss.

It was the first time LeBron made two free throws in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime in a one-possession playoff game since May 26, 2009 against the Orlando Magic.

Wade chipped in during crunch time as well. He made a turnaround jumper to put the Heat up 94-87 with 2:58 left and then assisted on a Chris Bosh dunk to put the Heat ahead by seven once again with 53 seconds remaining.

All of this was despite another special performance from Kevin Durant, who scored 16 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Durant is the only player since the ABA-NBA merger (1976-77) with at least 14 fourth-quarter points in consecutive NBA Finals games (he had 17 in Game 1). Nobody since the merger has had more combined fourth-quarter points in their first two career NBA Finals games than Durant.

According to Elias, Durant’s combined 68 points in Games 1 and 2 are the third-most in NBA history by a player in their first two career NBA Finals games. The only players with more are Allen Iverson (71 in 2001) and Michael Jordan (69 in 1991).


Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

Bobcats fighting odds in Lottery

May, 28, 2012
5/28/12
10:19
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
Wednesday's NBA Draft Lottery (ESPN, 8 ET) sees the Charlotte Bobcats with the best odds at acquiring the top selection (25.0 percent) after finishing 7-59 on the season. But the worst record hardly secures the top pick, as just last year the Cleveland Cavaliers won the Draft Lottery with only a 2.8 percent chance.

In addition, since the lottery moved to its present format in 1994, the team with (or tied for) the best odds has won just three of the 18 lotteries: Philadelphia 76ers in 1996 (Allen Iverson), Cavaliers in 2003 (LeBron James) and Orlando Magic in 2004 (Dwight Howard). By comparison, the teams with the third and fifth-best odds have won four times.

It is new territory for the Bobcats franchise. Since joining the NBA in 2004, Charlotte has never held the No. 1 overall pick, and the Bobcats highest selection was in 2004 when they picked Emeka Okafor No. 2 overall (the Bobcats originally had the No. 4 pick, but traded with the Los Angeles Clippers).

Ten current franchises have never made the No. 1 overall pick in an NBA draft since 1966 (start of common draft). Along with the Bobcats, the Phoenix Suns (0.6 percent chance) are the only other team in the 2012 lottery.

The Houston Rockets, meanwhile, have a 0.5 percent chance of winning the lottery, the third straight year they have held the worst odds. In addition, this is the fifth time in the last 12 years the Rockets have missed the playoffs despite having a winning record.

Looking ahead, since the start of the lottery in 1985, 13 of the 27 No. 1 overall picks have gone on to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, including 2011 No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving. In addition, since 1990, four overall No. 1 picks went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and make the postseason (Derrick Rose, Tim Duncan, Chris Webber and David Robinson).

Without Bosh, Heat inside game doused

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
11:21
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
The Miami Heat were unable to overcome the loss of Chris Bosh, dropping Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at home against the Indiana Pacers.

When LeBron James and Dwyane Wade played together without Bosh on the floor during the regular season, the Heat outscored their opponents by 17 points per 48 minutes. In Game 2, the Pacers outscored the Heat 62-51 in the 32 minutes when they were on the floor together.

The Heat have leaned on James and Wade in the second half of both games against the Pacers. They have combined to score or assist on 81 of Miami’s 90 second-half points, including 33 of 37 points after halftime in Game 2.

In fact, no Heat player other than James and Wade scored more than five points on Tuesday. Elias confirms that no team has ever won an NBA playoff game in which the third-leading scorer had five or fewer points.

James missed two free throws with 54.3 seconds left and the Heat trailing by a single point. He is now shooting just 59 percent from the charity stripe this season in the final minute of one-possession games. The rest of the Heat have made 13 of 15 free throws under similar circumstances.

After the missed free throws, Wade and Mario Chalmers missed game-tying shots in the final 24 seconds. Over the last two seasons, including the playoffs, Wade is 4-for-13 and Chalmers is 1-for-8 on such shots. The four makes and 13 attempts by Wade are the most for the Heat in that span, topping the 2-for-12 effort by James.

It wasn’t only the Heat that went cold in the final two and a half minutes of the game. The teams combined to miss all 10 field goal attempts and six of eight free throws. The Pacers’ two free throws in the final minute were the only points after Wade made a shot with 2:41 left to cut Indiana’s lead to a single point.

The Pacers won despite scoring just 78 points. In the last 25 years, this is the second-lowest point total in a postseason road win for Indiana. The low was also at the Heat, a 73-70 win in the decisive Game 6 in the 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinals.

LeBron is the fifth MVP to play for a team that scored 75 or fewer points in a playoff game. According to Elias, the only MVP to appear for a team scoring fewer points was Allen Iverson, as the Philadelphia 76ers scored 74 points in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2001.

Without Bosh in the lineup, the Heat had trouble finishing inside five feet. Miami made just 42 percent of its shots from inside five feet, tied for its second-lowest accuracy this season. After outscoring the Pacers 40-22 from close range in Game 1, the Heat were outscored 26-22 on Tuesday and had six shots blocked inside five feet.

Friday Bullets

November, 18, 2011
11/18/11
1:57
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Gather around for John Converse Townsend's rich, real-life story about the time the ABA's Kentucky Colonels upended the NBA's Baltimore Bullets in an exhibition game at Louisville's Freedom Hall in 1971. It was the first time an ABA squad beat a rival from the more prestigious, senior NBA. The Colonels had a formidable roster that featured Artis Gilmore and Dan Issel, while the Bullets were playing without Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson. The Bullets' Fred Carter joked that the ABA's tri-color ball looked like a prop for trained seals, but for the ABA, the win carried enormous symbolic importance.
  • Tom Ziller writes that the players' stance is as much about self-determination as it is a financial calculation. One reason: NBA players are much wealthier as a group than they were in 1998: "Make no mistake: with this week's moves by the players, the scales have evened. The players are no longer content to negotiate from the corner David Stern put them in. They looked Stern and MJ and Paul Allen and Dan Gilbert right in their gold-specked eyes and they waved a middle finger and they said, "No mas." That's what David Stern has to deal with now, if this ever gets back to the negotiating table: a collection of players that have had enough."
  • Imagine a world where Charles Barkley was drafted by Philadelphia in 2002 and paired with Allen Iverson.
  • SB Nation's Jason Concepcion on hard-line Phoenix owner Robert Sarver: "Sarver's signature lockout moment was his comment that his wife had asked him to return to Arizona with the mid-level exemption in her purse. I love that for two reasons -- 1) a woman with an eye for arcane salary cap exemptions is obviously a keeper, and 2) Robert Sarver is so cheap he travels with his wife's purse."
  • Beckley Mason on HoopSpeak on the systemic reasons why the system is broken and the owners' unwillingness to address those issues: "The only true source of owner accountability, fans deciding to tune out terrible teams, has been subverted by the owner’s ability to force a too big to fail type bailout at the expense of the labor and taxpayers. Now the owners are trying to impose some kind of logic on a system that is inherently tainted by their own unchecked power. If they really wanted to make the league better, they’d seek the same standard of competency and competition from themselves as they’re demanding of the players."
  • Shane Battier is using the lockout to contemplate life after basketball: "At this point, I’m confident that if the NBA were to never settle, I could go out and get a job and use my brain to provide for my family. That’s allowed me amazing piece of mind to just start thinking about post-basketball, but at the same time be ready for when we do settle, if we settle, to be ready to go."
  • At Hardwood Paroxysm, Noam Schiller looks at a potential arms race in Europe if the NBA lockout persists: "If the Gasol brothers come home to Barcelona --already one of Europe’s top basketball teams -- what do you think their bitter rival, Real Madrid, says? 'No thank you, Rudy Fernandez and Serge Ibaka are enough'? Hell no! They swing for the Dwights and the LaMarcuses and the Dirks -- anybody who can top that Catalan splash, both on the court and off it. And once a strong Real is even stronger, what say CSKA Moscow, or Maccabi Tel Aviv, or Panathinaikos? These are teams that dominate their domestic competitions, and their entire existence is built around the prospect of capturing the Euroleague crown. You think they’ll give it away just because bringing a really really really good player costs a lot of money?"
  • Bullets Forever explores why the allure of The Club is so potent for pro athletes and so foreign to many fans.
  • Hall & Oates sold a ton of records during the 1980s, but their lasting imprint might be the use of "One on One" in one of the NBA's best promotional ads.
  • Not sure what's more fun about this reel: Watching Magic Johnson or listening to Chick Hearn.

Dirk defining his legacy this postseason

June, 11, 2011
6/11/11
1:10
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki
It's hard to say that a player who entered the 2011 playoffs as one of only four players in NBA history to average over 25 points and 10 rebounds per game for a postseason career had a lot left to prove.

In the case of Dirk Nowitzki that is exactly how it felt this postseason. Particularly after Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle proclaimed him one of the 10 best players all-time despite lacking the one thing that ultimately seems to define every great player’s career: a ring.

Nowitzki is now closer than he ever has been to relieving this burden and cementing his legacy. In the process he also has the chance to remove himself from some unwanted lists among great players.

Nowitzki, with 10 all-star selections, is tied for the sixth-most by a player without an NBA title in league history. The only players with more are Karl Malone (14), Charles Barkley (11), Elgin Baylor (11), Patrick Ewing (11) and Allen Iverson (11).

Malone, Baylor and, LeBron James are the only other players in NBA history besides Nowtizki with career averages of more than 23.0 points and 7.0 rebounds without an NBA championship to their credit.

His 22,792 points are 23rd-most all-time in NBA history, but 10th-most among players to never win a ring.

This postseason though, Nowitzki hasn't just pushed himself to the brink of a championship but has also established himself as one of the premier clutch postseason scorers.

Nowitzki has been at his best in crunch time, defined as those moments under five minutes left in game with the score within five points or fewer. He’s scored 26 points in those situations in the Finals while going 8-for-13 from the field. The entire 'Big Three' of the Miami Heat have combined to score just 21 points in crunch time.

Over the last 15 postseasons only O'Neal and Michael Jordan (1997 and 1998) have averaged over 10 points per game in the fourth quarter of an NBA Finals series. Each of those players led their teams to NBA Championships while also winning the Finals MVP award, something Nowitzki is well on his way to doing.

If the Mavericks win the title and Nowitzki takes home Finals MVP honors, the legacy that his coach was hyping up will be solidified. He would become the 11th player in NBA history to have at least 10 NBA All-Star appearances, a regular season MVP award and a Finals MVP.

Will bloom come off Rose during playoffs?

May, 10, 2011
5/10/11
11:49
AM ET
By Justin Havens
ESPN.com
Archive
With Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal Tuesday in Chicago, there have been whispers that Derrick Rose is shouldering too much of the scoring and ball-handling load for the Chicago Bulls.

The Bulls posted the best regular-season record with Rose -- the league's MVP -- leading the way, but he has carried an even bigger workload since the start of the playoffs.

How do we know just what sort of increase it has been and how it ranks relative to seasons past? Usage rate, which is defined as an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he is on the floor.

Rose's regular-season Usage Rate ranked second to Kobe Bryant in the NBA; however, it was not particularly noteworthy. Since 2000-01, Rose's 32.2 mark ranked 30th among qualified players.

What is of far greater concern to the Bulls and their title chances is how much Rose's Usage Rate has increased during the playoffs.
At 36.6, Rose is tied for the second-highest Playoff Usage Rate since 2000-01, behind Allen Iverson's 36.8 in the 2001 playoffs. What's more, only one player since the 2001 playoffs has gone on to win an NBA title with a Playoff Usage Rate that ranked in the top 15: Kobe Bryant in 2008-09 and 2009-10, when he ranked 15th (32.9) and 13th (33.2), respectively. Everyone else in the top 15 failed to win a title in that season.

No doubt the future is bright for the Bulls and Rose. Still, over the last 30 seasons (see second chart) even the highest postseason Usage Rates by point guards who went on to win NBA titles were well below Rose's 36.6.

Jasner overcame gap, leaves a void

December, 6, 2010
12/06/10
7:03
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive
Now that I’ve moved past my selfish lament that I’ll never again see Phil Jasner, a good man whose company I’ll miss, I’m wondering how we’ll all recover from the loss of that rarest of combinations: someone who brings historical perspective without a generational gulf.

Jasner covered the Philadelphia 76ers from the days of Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks, through Charles Barkley, during the days when the closest thing to a star was Clarence Weatherspoon, amid the ups and downs of Allen Iverson and on to the current roster with a majority of players who weren’t even born when Jasner first got on the beat.

The league’s players were moving away from him, but he never held it against them. He didn’t let differences in age, culture, salaries or anything else interfere with his pursuit of the only thing that ever mattered: the story.

“He just treated them as basketball players,” said Billy King, a former 76ers general manager. “The money, the color…none of that mattered to Phil. It was, did you play, did you play hard?”

I think Jasner would echo the sentiments expressed here by another irreplaceable journalist, the late David Halberstam, who during the 2001 NBA Finals expressed his fondness for Iverson despite the inherent differences between the two.

“We come from different worlds, and we are likely, once the Finals are over, to remain part of our different worlds,” Halberstam wrote. “Just to admire him is good enough.”

Jasner had to do more than admire Iverson. He had to cover Iverson. That meant chronicling an MVP season and Iverson’s mercurial ways. That meant sometimes having to write things that Iverson or anyone else wouldn’t like to read about themselves. Yet Jasner came from a place of respect, thus he commanded Iverson’s respect as well.

You could see it even in the full transcript of the infamous “Practice” press conference, which continued long after the clip you’ve memorized by now. Iverson challenges him, but he ultimately yields to him, instead of brushing him off with a Rosenhausian “next question.” What stands out is how resolute Jasner was in his quest for Iverson’s explanation, rather than imposing his own views on Iverson.

Reporter: "There are people that have suggested, myself included, that instead of shooting 40 percent, you...

Iverson: "What do you know about basketball? Have you ever played?"

Reporter: "Yes"

Iverson: "I don't know Phil, I don't know you as a basketball player. I know you as a columnist but I have never heard of you as a player though.

Reporter: "Why is that an issue?"

Iverson: "Why is that an issue? Because we're talking about basketball."

Reporter: "Let me ask my question."

Iverson: "Go ahead, Phillip."

Reporter: "Supposed you shot 44 percent..."

Iverson: "I don't know about that. That is in God's hands. I do not know if that will help me or not. That's God. God does that, It ain't up to you to say if Allen Iverson does this then he'll do that. That's up to God. It ain't up to anyone in here. That is up to God. He handles that.

Reporter: "You have control over your body?"

Iverson: "God has more control over it than I do. You know that. God has more control over your body. I do not care about how much you eat, how many weights you lift or how good you eat, if God says you're gone, you're gone.

So Jasner didn’t exactly get what he was looking for, but he did wind up with a rumination on the powers of the Almighty from Iverson, which might be worth even more. (Reading Iverson’s quote and Stephon Marbury’s tweet on logic and Jesus Christ makes me realize we need a theological student to write a thesis on NBA players and their views on religion, pronto).

Even though Jasner very well might have more basketball knowledge than the people he covered, Jasner let them have their say. I worry that’s missing from coverage today. People don’t even consider the value of the other side.

When Jasner criticized King (now the general manager of the Nets), King might call to discuss it. Their relationship was strong enough to allow for such conversations without them being confrontational. Jasner would always let King have his say, then reply: “Fair point.”

Civility combined with familiarity. Jasner never played in the NBA, but he dedicated himself to learning about it and covering it for so long that he became an authority. King said Jasner would often tell young Sixer players about the glory days of Doc, Moses and Andrew Toney. Jasner was so detail-oriented that he once warned me about some errors in the 76ers official stats.

An early – and perhaps first – meeting I had with Jasner came at a Spurs-Lakers game right after Christmas in 1992. I was in my first year in the business, covering the University of Illinois football team for the Chicago Sun-Times and taking advantage of their trip to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego to spend a little time at home in Los Angeles. I drove to the Forum to do a story on John Lucas, the former No. 1 overall pick who had just taken over the head coaching job of the Spurs. Jasner had flown in because the Sixers happened to be on a West Coast trip.

The last thing any beat writer needs is an extra flight. But it was Jasner who suggested it to his editors, when he saw he’d be in the same time zone as Lucas. That was the dedication Jasner had to his job. His work mattered more than convenience. And the game mattered more than the culture. He might not have listened to the same music as the players, but he could find a common topic.

Basketball.

Allen Iverson, unemployable All-Star

March, 2, 2010
3/02/10
3:08
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Allen Iverson
David Dow/NBAE/Getty Images
It's unclear if any team would offer Iverson -- voted an All-Star starter -- a minimum contract.

Today the 76ers confirmed what has been whispered for some time: Allen Iverson won't be back in a Sixers uniform this season.

As a parent, I can't doubt for a moment that Iverson has far more important things on his mind than NBA basketball. Word is that until his daughter's health situation is resolved, he won't even think about what's to come of his NBA career. Fair enough.

What's less clear is: When his family situation is in order, and if he decides he's ready to return to the NBA, will there be a job waiting for him?

Worth pointing out that Iverson was recently voted an All-Star starter, in this bizarro season.

Despite his lack of size and shot-happy game, Iverson was always a productive player early in his career, as a Sixer and then as a Nugget. In Detroit, things began to fall apart. This season was Iverson's chance to make NBA executives and fans forget that unfortunate stain on his record. Unproductive, odd stints in Memphis and Philadelphia had the opposite effect. Any worries people had about employing him have been compounded, instead of erased.

Front-office sources suggest that there are some particular obstacles to Iverson ever getting another NBA job:

Iverson won't come off the bench.
This is the biggest challenge of them all. The bench is the place for inefficient, high-volume shooters, which is what Iverson has become. Here's why: Nobody doubts that on some nights, Iverson could be a killer who gets you 20 quick points. (He recently had a nice duel with Kobe Bryant.) If the stars align -- he's feeling healthy, he has the defense's number, and his jumper's falling -- then the coach could leave him out there and look like a genius. On those other nights, though, the coach could sit him down, and let more productive players take over.

The "microwave" role off the bench is a time-honored NBA tradition. And look at the Celtics, who have employed a string of such players (Eddie House, Stephon Marbury, Nate Robinson) in that role. I'm not sure the Celtics would ever let such gunners into their starting lineup, where they'd be in line for big minutes even on their worst nights. But getting minutes opportunistically, there's a limit to how much damage they could do to their own team.

Iverson is banged up.
Iverson has played about 40,000 NBA minutes. His style of play throughout has been to make daring, kamikaze raids into the paint, where he could encounter every manner of bigger, stronger, faster defenders. It would be a fascinating study to count how many times he has crashed to the floor since 1996.

He has been celebrated for playing without regard for his personal safety. He has been maligned for avoiding off-court conditioning.

That's a deadly combination, making him almost certain not to age well as a player. And sure enough, he has accumulated an impressive array of dents and dings. Any team that invested in Iverson would have to take his age and potential frailty into account.

Iverson is too popular.
Iverson is a legend among NBA fans, and with good reason. He's also, however, a legend among young NBA players, who grew up watching the tiny guy with the big heart embarrass bigger players night in and night out.

This is a practical problem, however. Marreese Speights, for instance, is often the Sixers' most efficient offensive option. When the Sixers get the ball to Speights and have Iverson cut through, the best thing for the team would be for Speights to fake the handoff to a cutting Iverson, while keeping the ball to create his own shot. But Speights is not alone among young players in preferring to feed the legendary little guy -- even though that hurts the team.

This dynamic has an off-court element, too. If ever Iverson demonstrates a negative attitude about anything to do with the team -- practice or coaching for instance -- he's a threat to bring a lot of younger players into his camp, too.

What will it take for Allen Iverson to return to the NBA? More than anything, an honest assessment of where he is. He's not faster than everybody else. It would take a lot of offseason work for him to get his body into the kind of shape required for such a short player to be an efficient contributor. And he's not in a position to command superstar treatment from his coaches or teammates.

If he's comfortable with those realities, he may find another NBA job, if he wants one. If he's unwavering in his commitment to the idea he should star, then he might consider the sobering reality of a player whose career has long paralleled Iverson's: Stephon Marbury. They're about the same age and about the same size, and both believe in scoring as the primary measure of a guard. Marbury, too, valued his own skills more than NBA teams did -- and he was last seen playing on one of the worst teams in China.

Will Allen Iverson play again this season?

February, 22, 2010
2/22/10
4:52
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Allen Iverson has played just 25 games this year -- three for the Grizzlies and 22 for the Sixers. By just about every measure, he has had the worst performance of his 14 years in the League.

How much of that is the effects of age, and how much is a stressful family trauma?

It's not hard to believe that a lot of it could be related to ongoing health problems of his daughter Messiah.

In a statement, the Sixers say Allen Iverson will be away from the team, tending to his ill daughter, "indefinitely."

Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News says a source close to the situation tells him Iverson could well be sidelined for the rest of the season. In a poll on Philly.com, the vast majority of readers have expressed that they do not expect to see Iverson on the court again this season.

A week ago, Iverson spoke about his four-year-old daughter, whose health problems, at least at that time, remained undiagnosed. Jasner quoted Iverson saying that doctors thought pneumonia was one possible explanation, but that tests for many conditions had come back negative. She has been in and out of the hospital. I think any parent can understand the heart-wrenching situation he's in:


"I have five kids," he said. "None of them have ever been this sick. It's a first-time thing for me. I like to look at myself as a strong person, especially dealing with everything in my life. But this is a totally different situation; you find out you're not as tough as you thought you were when it's one of your kids. All I do is just pray on it; everyone that cares anything about me and my family, I wish them to do the same, 'cause that's all that can be done right now, 'cause they don't know exactly what's wrong with her." ...
"The strongest man in the world," Allen Iverson said, "I don't think they could deal with it if something happened to one of their kids. I just love my kids."


On Allen Iverson, Aging and All-Stars

January, 22, 2010
1/22/10
4:49
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
This season Allen Iverson has been both cut by the Grizzlies and voted an All-Star starter.

This afternoon, writer Sherman Alexie e-mailed me that he was aghast that Allen Iverson would actually consider playing in next month's All-Star game in Dallas. He said he was going to write a poem about it. Two hours after that, this arrived:


Brotherly Love
When Modesty gets into a bare-knuckle fight with Fame,
It’s a sad, bloody thing. Modesty gets pummeled. Modesty dies.
Is Iverson really going to play in the All-Star Game?

Don’t get me wrong. There has never been a small man who played
With more ferocity. He was born without brake lights!
And, no, he was never modest about his talent and fame,

But he always earned the ego. He deserved the acclaim.
But, ah, his game has said good night, good night, good night, good night.
The truth: he doesn’t deserve to play in the All-Star Game.

He isn’t good enough. Not anymore. There should be no shame
In growing old. But what do we do with the man who denies
His age? Whose modesty has been murdered by his fame?

Doesn’t he have an honest friend? Or maybe they’re all afraid
To tell him the truth. Or maybe they don’t know they’re telling lies.
Maybe they think Iverson belongs in the All-Star Game.

And maybe he does. Maybe he deserves a last serenade.
But, God, how can he feel good about this tattered prize?
I hope Iverson chooses modesty instead of fame,
And honors himself by not playing in the All-Star Game.

Mismatches are not magic

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
10:39
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
A lot of people will tell you that mismatches are the story in the NBA. One favorable matchup can win you a game.

Or not.

Early in the Sixers loss to the visiting Blazers, Portland had an obvious mismatch. The 6-7 Martell Webster was being guarded by the smallest guy on the court, Allen Iverson, who is listed as 6-0 but was once described by then-teammate Aaron McKie as 5-10, which seems plausible.

Webster can shoot from the outside, and is strong and athletic enough to score in the paint. In theory, he could feast on a small defender.

The Blazers force-fed Webster again and again. The smaller Iverson battled. "Just trying to fight him early," said Iverson after the game. "Trying to push him out as much as possible, and front him if I had to." He also used some veteran tricks. Not once, but twice on an early play Iverson yelled and threw his body around, pretending Webster had fouled him.

The referees weren't buying it.

Webster went to work.

He ran Iverson off screens, Reggie Miller-style. He posted up. He shot long jumpers. He fought into the paint.

And just about none of it worked. Webster missed a layup. He made a mid-range jumper. He missed a 3. He missed a tip-in. He missed a short jumper.

In one telling play, Webster posted Iverson, rushed a move into the helping Samuel Dalembert, and missed a tough shot over the longest arms on the court.

Another time, the Blazers fought to get Webster the ball in the corner and looked to create something off the dribble. But he didn't have a lot of room to operate, and ended up having to escape to the top of the key. By the time he determined there were no easy shots for him, he swung the ball into a shot-clock violation.

After all that, Portland was down six, and had scored just five points in the game's first five minutes. Webster missed one more shot, then Portland stopped going to Webster.

Iverson points out that the Blazers didn't find it profitable to isolate Webster on him. "They didn't go down there much," he says, "after the beginning."

Webster's normal offense consists of transition buckets, putbacks and open jumpers.

Portland's normal offense normally features players like Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, Steve Blake and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Despite the appearance of an appetizing mismatch, as soon as the Blazers stopped going to Webster, it took just over a minute for Portland to tie the game. Portland went on to win while Webster played sparingly the rest of the way. He finished one of six in the first quarter, one of nine for the game.

"Martell is not normally on the block for us," says Portland coach Nate McMillan. "We wanted to make Iverson work some, so they didn't just rest him. We wanted to go into the post with our guards ... we tried Martell a few times.

"You don't want to take yourself out of rhythm by going to a guy who's not normally in that position. We went to it a couple times, but we felt like we were trying to force some things there and we went away from that, and went back to what we normally do."

And quickly the offense got much better?

"No question," says McMillan.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Allen Iverson says he just had a large amount of fluid drained from his left knee.

By Henry Abbott

An aging superstar, after trying retirement on for size, finds a new team.

Despite everything he has done, despite everything he has won, believe it or not, there are still those who doubt him. They must be taught otherwise.

Amazingly, some do not know the depths of the competitiveness in the man's soul. Age, slowing him? Please.

He graces a mediocre team with his big name and big game, creates a fan sensation, sells some tickets and prepares, in his mind, to rewrite the history of the franchise by mixing his improved jumper with the creative and daring forays into the paint that made him famous.

Only ... returning from the layoff is tough. The aging is real. The drives into the paint are met with bigger, stronger, faster and younger defenders.

There are some stumbling blocks out of the gate. The body is not quite what it once was. There are some losses.

The internet has always said this celebrity is like a zillion others in enjoying the nightlife. Who cares? Maybe nobody. But it's clear the player did not arrive in championship form, and may have to "play into shape" a little.

Some of what's happening with the body, though. That's new. Check out all the fluid in that knee. Draining that fluid helps the symptoms, but trainers and doctors agree draining the fluid doesn't do much about the underlying cause. Addressing that the conventional way is extremely time consuming, and is centered on weeks or months of taking it easy.

This is the story of Michael Jordan, long-retired Bull, as a brand-new Wizard in 2001.

"There was only the illusion of a remedy," writes Michael Leahy in his book about Jordan's return, "When Nothing Else Matters." "After the draining of the knee, Jordan could move again. But the tendon remained inflamed -- a draining did nothing for inflammation. If he did not rest, the pain would be coming back, along with more inflammation, more swelling, a nastier case of restricted movement and a heightened chance for another injury."

A major point of Leahy's book is that Jordan didn't listen to his body, nor anybody else. He pushed too hard. He had the whole franchise at his beck and call, with nobody to temper his impulse to play through anything and everything. And the dark cloud of knee trouble parked itself over the entire season. In the final analysis of that season, Jordan played just two-thirds of his typical workload, sitting out 22 of Washington's 82 games, seeing just about 2,000 minutes of action, compared to his typical 3,000+. When he did play, by just about every measure he was the worst he had been as a pro. His field goal percentage, his rebounding rate, his PER ... all down.

Coincidentally, word that Jordan's knee had been drained became public before a 2001 game in Philadelphia, where Jordan faced the upstart Allen Iverson. The younger guard's team was fresh off the NBA Finals and was heavily favored against the bickering Wizards.

That very night Reebok announced a lifetime Reebok contract for Iverson. Iverson and Jordan were on track to start side-by-side in the All-Star game. Iverson was threatening.

It was a shootout. Jordan launched 27 attempts, Iverson 31. But, with a sleeve over his right knee, Jordan scored 30 points, the win and the bragging rights. The day before, Wizards coach Doug Collins had promised to limit Jordan's minutes, but that was quickly forgotten as Jordan played all but ten minutes. He was notably slowed by the end of the game, but had 14 straight decisive points in the first half, putting the youthful Iverson -- who scored 40 in a losing effort -- in his place.

Eight years later, it's a whole new story, but a familiar one. Jordan is in retirement, a status Iverson is tip-toeing around. Now Iverson's the aging star on the bad team, fighting the years and the younger defenders in the paint, looking to win an improved legacy.

And, the fluid is now in his knee.

One of the reasons to have a veterans like Allen Iverson on your team is because players like that have been through the wars, and have learned from the things they have seen first-hand. What lesson does Iverson take from Jordan's experience? That knees are to be babied in the latter stages of one's career? That conditioning is king? Or that conventional advice be damned, toughness is the card that trumps all others.

Evidently, the latter. Iverson says he just had an enormous amount of fluid drained from his left knee. And he adds that there's almost no chance the knee will keep him from playing.

Iverson, as quoted by Bob Cooney on Philly.com about the large quantity of fluid that was just drained from his knee:

"I think it stems from me starting so fast and not having a chance to get a chance to practice and stuff, and not doing any running, just not playing over a month and jumping right into the fire. Hopefully, that's what it's from. I guess as much as I play, I guess it will go away, hopefully."



Of course, for a basketball player, it's never the worst thing to follow in the footsteps of the best player who ever played. But that doesn't mean it's the best, either.

Monday Bullets

December, 7, 2009
12/07/09
5:42
PM ET
By Kevin Arnovitz
By Henry Abbott

The owner of the Grizzlies, Michael Heisley, tells Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Blue his version of how Allen Iverson came to have just a three-game stay in a Memphis Grizzlies uniform.

Heisley says he was surprised by Iverson's complaints about playing time. He says Iverson had come into training camp not in very good shape, and then injured his hamstring. The team then played him slightly more than the trainers recommended -- nevertheless Iverson was upset. Heisley explains:

The trainer said I don't want him playing in the first two or three games but when he starts to play we should play him about 15 minutes. We're going to watch him very closely and bring him along slowly otherwise he's going to injure this leg again. So that's the directions Lionel got. He played him 18 minutes in the first game when we told him 15 minutes. Which was fine and Allen did well. He scored 11 points in 18 minutes I think.

So in the 2nd game, if I remember correctly, he played 25 minutes and he scored like 17 points. Now he went to the press and started bitching about not being the starter. I think he was being a little ridiculous to think he could be put out there after he's coming off that leg injury and be the starter and that he had earned it like he said he wanted to do.

Lionel then had a meeting with him and the team; with all of the stuff that was going on around the team and Allen was very upset. I was in the Middle East when this took place and I flew for 29 hours and when I got home I heard there was a problem and I flew out to the West Coast. I met with Lionel and I met with Allen and I thought things were going to be straightened out.

Allen came to me that night and said he had a problem at home that he had to take care of, which I believed to be true and I still do believe, and I told him to take as much time as he needed to take care of his personal problem and so he left.



Heisley then says that when he heard Iverson wanted to retire, he decided to "divorce" (or, release) him, so that Iverson could pursue other NBA opportunities because "I want Allen to play in this league."

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