Iverson, Jackson followed path to freedom
During Allen Iverson's(notes) final days in Memphis, the Grizzlies owner should've had to sit and listen to A.I.'s voice bellowing in the back of the bus. On his way out of the Staples Center one week ago, on his way out of the NBA, Iverson made sure his bosses could hear him in the front. Lionel Hollins let it go, the way the coaches in Philadelphia once did, too.
Just let A.I. rip, let him go. Sources say Iverson started to speak louder and louder about how he had played for one dumb bleeping coach in Detroit a year ago, and now had come to play for another dumb bleeping coach in Memphis. He never dared speak this way on the Detroit Pistons' bus because he feared team president Joe Dumars and respected the championship players on board.
With Memphis, forget it. The Grizzlies are a joke, signing Iverson for pure box-office reasons, and he made sure everyone – especially Hollins – could hear his frustration. Within 36 hours, Iverson was on "leave," never to return to Memphis.
So, yes, Monday evening, Larry Brown made sure to remind management in Charlotte: Hey, A.I. is available now, too. Thanks but no thanks, LB. The Bobcats will take a pass, just as they did with an offer of Philadelphia center Samuel Dalembert(notes) for the two players – Raja Bell(notes) and Vladimir Radmanovic(notes) – it took to pry Stephen Jackson(notes) from the Warriors.
Brown has a big enough problem as Jax rolls into that NBA ghost town of Charlotte, bringing his baggage from the Bay Area. Don Nelson didn't trade Jackson as much as he dispatched him to the worst possible gulag in the sport. Here's your trade, Jax: Pack for Charlotte and report to the anti-Nellie: Larry Brown. From the free-wheeling, I-could-give-a-bleep coach in Nelson to the tightly wound, obsessive Brown.
"I give those two less than a month before it goes bad," says a Western Conference executive who has history with Brown.
"Larry grates on the good guys really fast – never mind a guy like Jack," says a former assistant coach. "This won't go well."
Everyone understood that the Iverson episode with Memphis would be brief and bloody, but a three-game meltdown, a weeklong leave of absence and his eventual release on Monday defied even the most cynical of minds. In some kind of twisted logic, Iverson ran himself out of town too fast to even serve one twisted purpose: become the common cause against which O.J. Mayo(notes) and Rudy Gay(notes) could unite.
Just a year ago, Pistons teammates listened to Iverson proclaim on the team bus that he was still one of the three best players in the sport – Kobe, LeBron and me, Iverson said – and probably not in that order. Eventually, Dumars shipped him out.
Timing is strange sometimes. Detroit had the chance to complete a trade for Jackson two years ago, until Chris Mullin discovered his bosses had negotiated a needless $28 million extension with Jax behind the general manager's back.
The deal did nothing but reinforce with Jax that action within the sad-sack Warriors franchise only comes with treachery and deceit. Once Jackson didn't like his young supporting cast, much less the losing, he tossed tantrum upon tantrum to get himself traded. And it worked. He watched Nellie pull his share of power plays – getting contracts torn up and redone on threats of retirement, getting Mullin fired and his buddy, Larry Riley, the GM job – and understood that was the culture of owner Chris Cohan and president Robert Rowell.
These are the storylines the league office loathes: the disgruntled star wrangling with management, reinforcing stereotypes that remotely reflect the reality of most of the NBA's rank and file. Nevertheless, Jackson and Iverson transformed the sluggish October and November news cycle into personal platforms for foolery. For the NBA, it's a shame. Yet commissioner David Stern has no one to blame but too many clueless, lost owners and franchises which enable, even encourage, such behavior.
From Memphis to Golden State to bad franchises beyond, owners could've spared themselves the embarrassment of players who had done nothing but act in character. They deserved to sit there and get berated by A.I. and Jax – they asked for it. The public will always blame the easy target, the player, because that's what it is: the easy, convenient target, the small that ultimately stands in for the big in public perception.
In a lot of ways, this is a league where the twentysomethings pushed out a selfish post-Michael Jordan era of players who cared far more about max contract benefits than max franchise responsibility. LeBron James(notes) and Dwyane Wade(notes) – and eventually Kobe Bryant(notes), too – helped change the standard for the way a young NBA star carries himself, the way he goes about chasing championships.
Now, Jax goes to Charlotte and the New York Knicks consider the candidacy of Iverson at a gutted-out, hollow Madison Square Garden. Iverson's a worthy heir to Stephen Marbury, who sources say is spending hours and hours at spas getting pedicures, manicures and massages, literally believing that somehow that's part of preparing his body for a return to the NBA next season. That's all Starbury needs to see: Iverson running the point for the Knicks this season, and somehow this whole cycle of dysfunction will have come all the way around.