The calls from curious front-office executives about Iverson, Brown says, are coming to him. For everything that Charlotte's coach implies has been misunderstood about A.I.'s disastrous season with the Detroit Pistons, Brown sounds as disingenuous as ever while making the case for the NBA's most fascinating unsigned free agent.
No one is making calls on Allen Iverson. No one. Why? They all know the answers about The Answer.
If your team's a contender, Iverson proved with the Pistons that he wants no part of fitting into a system. If you're a bad team trying to develop young players, he'll stunt growth. Here's the problem: Iverson is just good enough to still be dangerous.
So why would they call someone who worked with him six years ago, when he was a different player in a different time? As believability goes, this is like Brown's boy wonder, John Calipari, pitching the NCAA that he had nothing to do with Derrick Rose's(notes) SAT scores.
Here's why it's so hard to believe Brown: How many calls have gone to Iverson's most recent employer, one of the basketball's most respected front offices?
"Not one," a Pistons front-office source said.
No one has called the Pistons because there's no mystery about Iverson. This has to be one of the most fascinating falls in modern NBA history – a $20 million-a-year player spiraling this fast without an injury, an arrest, something. He was still popular enough that fans voted him as a starter in the 2009 NBA All-Star Game. Now he'll be fortunate to get three of the worst franchises in the NBA – Charlotte, Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers – to offer him a modest, one-year contract.
Iverson comes out of a different NBA, a different time, and sometimes it feels like he's hanging around a high-school party a year or two after his graduation.
"When he went to Detroit and showed that he couldn't really fit into a team setup, it sent out a 'buyer beware' signal to everyone," one NBA general manager said.
The league's financial climate is changing – and changing dramatically. Iverson used to have box-office cachet, but even in these dire economic times no team sees him as a risk-reward gamble worth the trouble. After the Pistons made the trade for him in October, there was an immediate surge in ticket sales. Nevertheless, it didn't take long for the interest to level, and eventually Iverson became unwilling – perhaps even unable – to play a complementary role.
Yes, Michael Curry made a mistake promising Iverson a starting job – something the deposed Pistons coach later changed course on – but the damage was done. Iverson had always been a headache, but he no longer had the game to justify a franchise's concessions for him.
Even so, A.I. has always been of sound mind if not sound judgment. As for Stephon Marbury(notes), he did a much better job sacrificing his game with the Boston Celtics a season ago but has almost no chance to regain NBA employment this summer.
"Steph has gone off the deep end," one Western Conference GM said.
Eventually, Iverson will get a job. Maybe it will be this week, or next, or sometime in training camp when a team must deal with an injury. Officials with one of his endorsers, Reebok, have told league executives they believe Iverson will eventually sign with Brown in Charlotte. That's been A.I.'s preference too. Nevertheless, Brown has privately told associates that it seems unlikely his cash-strapped franchise could add the salary without first losing some elsewhere on the roster.
On Twitter, Iverson has promised that a deal is near for him, but there isn't one NBA executive, not one agent, who seems able to figure out where that'll be. For now, Allen Iverson is 34 years old, one of the last vestiges of the immediate post-Jordan era. He is fading fast out of relevancy, and perhaps it's fitting that another high-maintenance star no one wanted anymore, Larry Brown, is trying to play revisionist history for him.
There's no misunderstanding why A.I. is still unemployed this late into August, no search for answers about The Answer.
- Allen Iverson
- Larry Brown