Iverson needed Philadelphia's warm embrace

Marc J. Spears

Allen Iverson(notes) said it wouldn't have mattered if the New York Knicks had second thoughts and called. Or even if Kobe Bryant(notes), LeBron James(notes), Dwight Howard(notes), Kevin Garnett(notes) – really anyone outside the City of Brotherly Love – had phoned and tried to change his mind.

Iverson was beginning to enjoy retirement. And he didn't foresee himself returning to the NBA unless one team – his beloved Philadelphia 76ers – wanted him back. Had the Sixers never called, Iverson figures he'd still be back in Atlanta happily hanging out with his family, done playing basketball.

"Retirement was the best for me," said Iverson, whose official retirement lasted about a week. "[Philadelphia] is the only thing that could have brought me back, to play in this situation right here. I felt like I was having the time of my life.

"I always thought that once I gave the game up that it would be miserable for me and I thought about how I would miss it. But at the time that I was out, I didn't miss it because my family took over all of that. Just being there with my family every day, being able to see my kids and my wife whenever I felt like it, it was a great feeling to me.

"No obligations. No media. None of that type of stuff. It was a good feeling, man."

Iverson, 34, lacks an NBA title in his career, but even if one of the league's top contenders had called and offered him a contract, he says he'd have probably passed. He instead got what he wanted: a chance to return to the franchise that drafted him.

"I don't chase no championship," Iverson said. "I've said that from Day One. I have of lot of respect for the talent [God] gave me and I respect my game and what I do on the basketball court, and I wouldn't do something like that. A championship like that wouldn't mean much to me. I'd have to be an intricate part in what we are trying to do in winning a championship."

Iverson took a leave of absence from the Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 7 for family reasons, but he also wasn't happy with his reserve role and minutes. Ten days later, the Grizzlies and Iverson agreed to a contract buyout. After the Knicks showed interest but failed to make an offer, Iverson surprisingly announced he was retiring on Nov. 25. A day later, the Sixers called to see if he could help replace injured guard Lou Williams.

In what Iverson and his wife, Tawanna, deemed a "perfect opportunity," he signed a nonguaranteed contract with the Sixers on Dec. 2, nearly three years to the day that he last played for them.

"It was a real tough time personally for him," said Leon Rose, Iverson's agent. "If this situation didn't arrive, I don't know what direction it would have gone. This was something that he dreamed of happening. It was like it was meant to be."

Said Iverson: "I felt I would be accepted coming back and the fans wanted me back in Philly."

Iverson has shown why. He's played well while starting for Philadelphia. The Sixers went 1-3 without Iverson when he recently missed three games because of knee and shoulder injuries. Philadelphia, however, has won three of its past five games when Iverson has played.

"He's given us another dimension," said Sixers coach Eddie Jordan.

Iverson never played a single home game for the Grizzlies during his short, turbulent tenure with the franchise. He missed the preseason with a hamstring injury, then complained upon returning that he wasn't starting. He was frustrated by his lack of communication with Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins but so far seems to be on the same page with Jordan.

"He's been great; he's been terrific," Jordan said. "He's talked to the young guys. He's willing to practice. Every time we practice, he's followed his medical advice. He's been good in games.

"There were conditions leading to his signing. He's fulfilled all the promises that we've talked about."

Iverson will be part of this summer's deep free-agent class, and he hasn't ruled out playing elsewhere. The Sixers have two young guards – Williams and Jrue Holiday(notes) – they are trying to develop. So far, Iverson's positive return to Philadelphia has him less inclined to try retirement again.

"We will see," Iverson said. "I might change my mind once we get to that point. I'll talk to my wife and we will figure out what we will do. But it has to be a situation to which I will be happy like this situation here. We are not championship favorites or anything like that. We don't have a great record. I go to practice, I go to games, I'm happy.

"I'm happy with my situation and I love playing with these guys. And that's the most important thing for me – just to be happy."

LeBron to play in world championships?

After a brief meeting with LeBron James in Phoenix on Dec. 2, USA Basketball senior managing director Jerry Colangelo told Yahoo! Sports he is confident the Cleveland Cavaliers forward will be playing in the 2010 FIBA World Championship even though he will be a free agent this summer.

Colangelo also has meetings scheduled soon with two other impending free agents: Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade(notes) and Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh(notes). He's confident both will also want to play for the U.S. team in the international tournament.

Considering that most marquee free agents are typically signed by the middle of July, Colangelo is hopeful the worst-case scenario for James, Wade and Bosh is that they attend but don't participate in a minicamp and intrasquad scrimmage in Las Vegas in late July. He hopes they can participate by the second minicamp in New York City in mid-August; that camp will also include an exhibition, likely against France.

"I know [James'] circumstances," Colangelo said. "I'm hopeful that everyone is able to take care of their business before we leave to Europe. There's a good chance for that. If they don't have their business taken care of, we'll have to play it by ear. We will have to be prepared to replace those three guys. My gut is that everyone will have it wrapped up.

"I've gotten to know the guys well. I know their word is bond. I think they will show that kind of respect."

The world championship will be held Aug. 28-Sept. 12 in Turkey. Team USA will play Spain and Lithuania in mid-August, in either Barcelona or Madrid, and then play Greece in Athens in late August before the tournament starts. USA Basketball is expected to announce a senior team of 20-25 players prior to the NBA's All-Star Weekend in February.

While Colangelo also expects Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony(notes) and the majority of the "core" players who helped the United States win gold in the 2008 Beijing Olympics to return, one newcomer to expect on the roster is Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant(notes).

With Dallas Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd(notes) unlikely to return, USA Basketball would like to add another experienced point guard to replace him. Colangelo said he is considering Denver Nuggets veteran Chauncey Billups(notes). He also is high on Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy(notes). Lakers center Andrew Bynum(notes) and forward Lamar Odom(notes) may garner attention for roster spots as well.

Team USA officials won't discount Kidd, injury-plagued Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd(notes), Detroit Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince(notes) or Utah forward Carlos Boozer(notes) (also a 2010 free agent) until they are given the option to return.

"Every player on our roster is going to be given in writing an invitation," Colangelo said. "Some may choose not to participate."

Celtics cautious with K.G.

Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge, a former Major League Baseball player, compares his plan to preserve Kevin Garnett's health to how a veteran star pitcher is used.

Garnett is out with a hyperextended right knee, unrelated to the injury that required offseason surgery. He sustained the injury against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, then struggled the following night against the Golden State Warriors.

The Celtics decided to sideline him with a best-case scenario of having him return Wednesday in Miami. Don't be surprised if Garnett is asked to sit more games down the road in hopes of preserving his knees for the playoffs.

"I liken it to innings pitched for pitchers," Ainge said. "There are guys that could do 250 innings but are held to 150 innings. They might do 20 starts instead of 31 starts. Strategically, we have to get him fresh and ready. We are not putting a number on the amount of games, but we are playing it by eel. Some games, he can go 40 minutes. Some games, he can play 30. But with 82 games, you have to be strategic at times.

"He's not 100 percent. My intention was never for him to play 82 games. We're not concerned. He wants to play; he gets upset when we choose not to play him."

Ainge said that he also expects forward Paul Pierce(notes) (knee) and forward Glen Davis(notes) (ankle) to be out for another week. The Celtics are currently playing with 11 players because of injuries.

"Pierce is coming along well," Ainge said. "He's just getting treatment and trying to get rid of his infection and the antibiotics. He will probably practice in the next few days."


Rival team executives expect the Houston Rockets to be patient in their attempt to trade Tracy McGrady(notes) and his $23 million expiring contract. "Never say never, but I will be a little surprised if they get any kind of a reasonable deal," one general manager said. Another executive even speculated on the possibility of McGrady not playing the rest of this season and being used in a sign-and-trade during the summer. … The NBA Development League Showcase will take place Monday through Thursday in Boise, Idaho. Among the players one scout says to watch: Idaho guard Sundiata Gaines; Austin guard Curtis Jerrells(notes); Springfield guard Morris Almond(notes); Utah Flash guard Dontell Jefferson(notes); Sioux Falls forward Reggie Williams; Iowa swingman Cartier Martin(notes); Bakersfield forward Amara Sy; Erie forward Alade Aminu(notes); Austin forward-center Dwayne Jones(notes); and Albuquerque forward Yaroslav Korolev(notes), a former Clippers first round pick.