Friday, September 18, 2009

For Grizzlies, winning has a different meaning


Forgive me for making assumptions, but the Memphis Grizzlies are not going to win the NBA championship in the next year, or two years, or three years or four.

Sorry, Memphis fans.

In fact, they won't even make the playoffs.

In fact fact, they probably won't win 40 games in any of the next few years.

What they will do, at least for a while, is actually garner respectable crowds at the FedExForum.

They can thank Allen Iverson for that.

Because that's what the 34-year-old, journeyman guard does: He dazzles, he razzles, he does a little bit of this and a little bit of that -- and some fans like that.

(Me personally? I'd rather hit up YouTube for such pyrotechnics and save my ticket money for an enjoyable night at the local pub.)

But here's what Iverson won't do for the Grizzlies -- help them win more games. Which, to me, makes this signing so damn confounding.

Take a look at Memphis' roster. The Grizzlies actually have a couple players to build around in small forward Rudy Gay and shooting guard O.J. Mayo. And they're hoping point guard Mike Conley proves this season that he can be a starting PG in the Association.

The smart play would be to build around the three young play-makers with savvy veterans who know how to win and can share that knowledge with the talented but losses-burdened kids.

(Oh, and I forgot to mention center Mark Gasol, who still has a lot of developing to do, but is only 24 and has plenty of potential.)

Bring in a P.J. Brown, a Cuttino Mobley, don't pay him much, and tell him to teach the team's future how to win.

That makes a lot of sense to me.

So, of course, being the management group that traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers for, um, nothing, Memphis dedicated its summer to recruiting a player who has never, really, been called a winner.

Sure, Iverson took the 76ers to the 2001 Finals, but if you listen to his former teammates -- who all sacrificed a lot to stand in the background while he took center stage -- they could have won a lot more if he wasn't such a selfish, ball-hogging player.

Since then, only one of his teams -- out of eight seasons spent between Philadelphia, Denver and Detroit -- has made it past the first round of the playoffs, and he's been on some supposedly good squads.

In Denver, he and Carmelo Anthony led the league in scoring for long stretches of two seasons -- and they looked listless in back-to-back first-round defeats.

And in Detroit, he almost single-handily ruined a cast that had made six consecutive Eastern Conference finals, relegating the Pistons to first-round trash for the Cavaliers to dispose of with little to no worries.

So tell me, does this player sound like someone who will magically appear in Memphis for training camp -- just barely on time, it's expected by the way, after a commitment in Europe -- and turn a team that hasn't won more than 24 games the past three seasons into a winner?

Forget about it.

Iverson will score plenty of points, he'll draws "wows" from fans after some of his moves, and he'll help the front office sell thousands of tickets.


He'll also take bad shots, keep the Grizzlies from developing offensive rhythm, be nothing special on defense, and probably bicker, at least internally, if he's brought off the bench and plays minimal minutes (which, at this point, would be the smart thing to do).

Add selfish malcontent Zach Randolph, who averaged 17.4 shots per games last season in just 50 nights on the hardwood, to the mix, and this franchise will be stuck in neutral for at least this season.

When the focus should be on developing the young players, including No. 2 draft pick Hasheem Thabeet -- who has a lot of work to do to become a serviceable NBA player -- it'll instead be on a guy who has already written his legacy.

I'm all for feel-good, late-career success stories, but one won't be happening for Allen Iverson in Memphis -- or anywhere else, for that matter.

There's a reason the top-tier teams didn't even show a vague interest in signing the 2001 MVP.

Memphis would be smart to take a look at the types of players San Antonio, Boston and L.A. sign.

Then maybe the Grizzlies could improve in a category other than ticket sales.

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