Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Iverson tweet: He's going to Memphis
By Marc Stein
Is one of the league's smallest markets big enough for O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Allen Iverson?
The NBA is about to find out.
After a drawn-out recruitment by the Memphis Grizzlies, Iverson finally confirmed Wednesday morning that he is indeed ready to sign with them, announcing via his Twitter feed: "God Chose Memphis as the place that I will continue my career."
Referring to a Monday meeting with Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley, general manager Chris Wallace and head coach Lionel Hollins, Iverson added: "I feel that they are committed to developing a winner and I know that I can help them to accomplish that. I feel that I can trust them."
The Grizzlies are believed to be offering Iverson a one-year deal worth $3.5 million, which is far less than the nearly $21 million he earned last season in Denver and Detroit but more than anyone else was prepared to pay the 34-year-old.
"The Memphis Grizzlies have agreed in principle to enter into an agreement with free-agent guard Allen Iverson," Wallace said in a statement Wednesday night. "We anticipate signing him to a contract very soon."
At Heisley's behest, Memphis has been pursuing Iverson since July, ignoring concerns about his willingness to accept a reserve role or his ability to coexist in the same offense with Mayo, Gay and Randolph because of Iverson's presumed ability to generate interest and sell tickets. The Grizzlies, throughout Heisley's ownership, have languished in the shadow of the Memphis Tigers' many successes in the collegiate game.
Several hours after Iverson's tweets Wednesday, Memphis issued a press release calling for a Thursday morning news conference to make a "major announcement." The Grizzlies also announced that the noon ET news conference at FedEx Forum -- presumed to be Iverson's introduction -- will be open to the public.
In a radio interview Tuesday with WHBQ-AM in Memphis, Wallace sounded hopeful about Iverson ultimately joining the team, saying: "We had a very productive meeting yesterday where both sides got to know each other and what our expectations were. We got to hear Allen out, he got to hear us out and I thought it went pretty well."
Asked specifically about Iverson's well-known aversion to coming off the bench, Wallace said: "He indicated to us that he just wants to come in and help a team out, to get better, to win, and he'll shine during that process. I think Allen Iverson is going to be very fine with whatever role he would end up fulfilling here in Memphis.
He knows where we're coming from, we know where he's coming from and I think if he comes here it's going to be a very productive marriage."
Monday's sitdown in Atlanta was the first face-to-face contact between Iverson and Grizzlies officials since the process began, with Memphis negotiating to this point primarily with Leon Rose, Iverson's agent.
Iverson has spent much of the past two months hoping that a firm offer would materialize from the Miami Heat, New York Knicks or Charlotte Bobcats, with the latter presenting the possibility of a reunion with former coach Larry Brown. But Iverson was ultimately forced to concede that only the Grizzlies had the financial flexibility and definite interest to pay him more than a minimum salary after his nightmarish stint with the Pistons.
Iverson played in only 57 games last season after being dealt by Denver to Detroit less than a week into the season and averaged a career-low 17.5 points, hampered by a back injury and his open struggles to cope with coming off the bench for the first time in his career. He would end up leaving the Pistons in April by mutual agreement before the playoffs.
But Iverson has insisted in recent days that he is amenable to whatever the Grizzlies have in mind for him as well as the steep drop from last season's salary, writing via Twitter: "Memphis is a place that I would love to play. The Grizzlies have good young players with a great upside. I love the city of Memphis, too.
"I would lead by example," Iverson wrote.
With Mayo at the same position, Mike Conley returning at point guard and Randolph's arrival over the summer, bringing in Iverson would appear to run counter to the Grizzlies' previous intent to develop a group of youngsters which also includes center Marc Gasol and No. 2 overall draft pick Hasheem Thabeet.
Yet in a July interview with ESPN.com, Heisley disputed suggestions that signing Iverson -- the sort of drawing card that the Grizzlies have never had in an eight-season run in Memphis marked by notoriously low attendance figures -- was dangerous or purely motivated by the prospect of ticket sales.
"What appeals to me?" Heisley said, repeating the question. "He's one of the greatest players in the last 10 years in the NBA."
In an interview Wednesday with NBA.com, Heisley said: "He told us he was very interested in playing with the young team we've assembled. He thought he could help us win and he was looking forward to helping the young players, and helping them to develop. Frankly, I'm ecstatic to have him.
"I don't buy into all of the stuff that's gone on. I'm not saying none of it happened. Some of it did
but I know Allen is an excellent player. He's going to the Hall of Fame.
The city of Memphis is going to be ecstatic to have him. We've never had a Hall of Famer, a guy of Allen's stature playing in Memphis. I feel Allen is going to be outstanding for us."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.