Believe It or Not, Allen Iverson Makes Grizzlies Better

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The virus has landed.

That’s no doubt what fans in Denver and Detroit would have to say about the Allen Iverson-to-Memphis saga that just went final via Twitter. The 34-year-old guard tweet-announced Wednesday, “God Chose Memphis as the place that I will continue my career” — tacit acceptance of a long-standing Grizzlies offer for a one-year deal worth $3.5 million.

It’s a $17.5 million pay cut for a player who has in recent years become the Terrell Owens of the NBA world: the guy who, despite incredible talent, is viewed by fans and the league as a cancer, a player who cares more about getting his than winning a championship (and it’s perhaps no coincidence that neither T.O. nor A.I. owns a ring).

After shipping out of Philadelphia in the 2006-07 season, Iverson headed to Denver, where the Nuggets promptly went two straight seasons without getting out of the first round of the playoffs. When he left for Detroit at the beginning of last year, Denver advanced to the Western Conference Finals. The Pistons? They let the aging star go before the playoffs even began.

“What the heck is Memphis GM Chris Wallace thinking?!” you must be asking yourself.

“I know Allen is an excellent player,” Wallace retorted in an interview Wednesday with NBA.com. “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.”

And here’s the crazy thing: It makes sense.

A.I., for one, will bring in much-needed ticket sales to a franchise with staggeringly low attendance figures throughout its eight-year run. Higher revenues will mean more money to throw at elite players down the line.

But the move also makes Memphis better. Think about this for a starting lineup:

PG – Mike Conley (incredible quickness, low turnover total and ability to both pass and score)
SG – O.J. Mayo (second in Rookie of the Year voting)
SF – Rudy Gay (19 points a game, with inside-out range)
PF – Zach Randolph (banger underneath with great offensive ability — just keep his head in the game)
C – Marc Gasol (No. 3 on my list of Rookie of the Year candidates for 2008-09)

Add Iverson as a backup to Mayo and Conley, and put No. 2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet in the paint with Gasol and Randolph, and you’re looking at a dangerous club. No, not compete-for-the-playoffs-type dangerous in the stacked Western Conference, but dangerous enough to play the role of spoiler throughout the season.

As for why Iverson, in particular, is a good fit to help build this club:

1. He’s old. Say what you want about his level of maturity, but A.I. has played 13 seasons in the NBA, this could be his last stop, and he wants a championship ring to add to his legacy. That’s an asset for a club whose starters average 23 years of age.

2. He’s purely offensive. The Grizz ranked 29th in the league in scoring last season, at a miserable 93.9 points-per-game, and a far more respectable 13th on defense (99.3 PPG). They needed more offense, in other words, and Iverson certainly can provide that.

3. He’s willing to come off the bench. Now, before you bash this as an outrageous point, take this into account: A.I. is taking this deal fully aware that Mayo, who plays his position, is the future of the franchise. And Wallace had this to say on the subject in a radio interview Tuesday with WHBQ-AM:

“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.”

Call that naïveté, or downright stupidity, but the bottom line is, Iverson is at least saying all the right things to Wallace at this point; much more than can be said for his behavior in the past (“Practice? We talking about practice, man”).

Add it all up, and you’ve got a club that — at worst –  will best its wins total of just 28 from a year ago and get a guaranteed boost in ticket sales. At best, the Grizzlies could become a 40-win team with a dynamic offensive attack and the ability to spoil the big boys on any given night.

For $3.5 million dollars, that’s a no-brainer.

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