Iverson’s suitors aren’t chasing a prize

As an undersized and unemployed 34-year-old shooting guard, it’s easy to co-opt Allen Iverson’s nickname and attach some tired whimsy to his current job search.

But even when he was lighting up entire teams as the whirling dervish of Philly, even when being referenced as “The Answer” wasn’t accompanied by sarcasm, it was always difficult to ascertain just what in the heck the question had been.

Sure, it was pretty amazing to see this grasshopper-sized kid knifing through NBA defenses and into a Hall-of-Fame career, but — with the exception of Larry Brown’s temporarily successful kowtow to Iverson’s selfishness — the guy has been a relative train wreck in a sport that at least pays lip service to the team concept.

So, now that he’s become to a free-agent contract what a booby-trapped explosive is to a diamond, we’re here to figure out just what any team willing to sign him will be getting.

Well, they’ll be getting desperate.

So, into this spotlight step the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat, three teams with enough self-loathing to claim at least partial interest in hiring a player who was paid more than $21 million while getting credited with wrecking the Detroit Pistons last season.

Detroit seems like a fine starting point for this examination.

OK, we’re all aware the team that had reached the Eastern Conference finals six years in a row turned into a catastrophe after trading point guard Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets for Iverson early last season. And we know Billups turned the Nuggets into a contender while the Pistons staggered toward the extinction of Iverson’s contract.

It also should be noted the Pistons seemed a bit past their expiration date even before the Billups deal.

But Iverson — and his reluctance to play offense without dominating the ball or contribute much effort on defense — was the catalyst for calamity. And on a team attempting to develop its young core, it was easy for the Pistons to wave bye-bye.

So what makes Clippers coach/king Mike Dunleavy believe the player whose hallmark has been (to put it mildly) on-court indifference to teammates would be willing to conduct himself differently?

Perhaps Dunleavy wouldn’t mind suiting up a no-defense-playing ballhog. He’ll score a ton, everyone else will rebound and defend and the Clippers will roll into the late spring.

This philosophical conundrum leads me to declare that Mike is either a lot smarter than previously demonstrated or considering one of the dumbest moves in recent years.

And things seemed to be going relatively (and relatively is a really big qualifier for this franchise) well.

The Clippers experienced lottery glory, selected Blake Griffin without Griffin announcing his love of professional basketball in Europe and watched as the former Oklahoma star played brilliantly without encountering a career-threatening injury during his first summer league game.

They’ve also unloaded the personal baggage, defensive liabilities and contract of 20-and-10 machine Zach Randolph on the Grizzlies, freeing more minutes for Griffin and sidestepping a potential hue and cry over logjam-related playing time along their baseline.

We liked that.

Clipper assets also include highly regarded, second-year shooting guard Eric Gordon, third-year small forward Al Thornton, reasonably priced shot-blocker Marcus Camby and a big center (Chris Kaman) who’s not bad when healthy.

According to published rumor, any team offering a starting spot could land the clueless Iverson, who would join Gordon and Baron Davis in a three-guard rotation that would cut Gordon’s minutes. A truly remarkable premise, even for the Clippers.

The smirking jackals of TV analysis have suggested putting all three on the floor at once with two bigs — a nice tactic that would give the Clippers two major mismatches on defense instead of the automatic mismatch Iverson becomes every time he trails cutters through the lane or closes out at half speed.

(Reminder … frequent stealing of the ball does not make you a good, or even competent, defensive player.)

Anyway, Davis (who’s been no hayride to deal with, either) has Tweeted his endorsement of Iverson as a teammate, so the franchise that has a history of tactical disaster would deserve what it would get.

But, hey, the Clips were 22nd in the league in attendance last season, so why allow the interest in developing a winning team interrupt a theoretical rise in ticket sales?

Why? Go ask George Karl.

For the record, the Memphis Grizzlies were last in attendance last season, and it has been reported that owner Michael Heisley is the lead barker in any Grizzlies-related Iverson interest.

Yeah, there’s a reason this guy’s had a tough time getting rid of the franchise.

However, it should be noted that dealing on the cheap in Memphis has been accompanied by some interesting basketball moves. Taking on Randolph, for example.

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In Iverson, the Grizzlies would have a scoring guard who could (rolling my eyes here) facilitate moving young hotshot O.J. Mayo to the point. (O.J. would have to play point guard because Iverson would never let him have the ball otherwise.) The notion of Iverson running an offense (any place other than into the ground) is hilarious. Despite pleading from coaches and other educated observers, he’s avoided this duty his entire career. Why would he change now?

Maybe he realizes his career is on its deathbed and wants to make things right. That’s a nice way to rationalize signing Iverson, but I wouldn’t stake my general-managing career on him seeing the light.

Speaking of the bright side, with Iverson in a Grizzlies uniform, rookie center Hasheem Thabeet would have a shot at leading the league in offensive rebounding, especially if Iverson’s 31-percent career three-point shooting continues to flourish near Beale Street.

We’re not sure how many more butts Iverson would put in Memphis seats, but he’d probably keep the franchise in good shape for another run at Secaucus.

From that New Jersey interlude, let’s move down to Florida, where another reputed Iverson suitor resides.

So … would Pat Riley even consider offering Iverson a starting spot with the Miami Heat? We all realize Riley is desperate to keep Dwyane Wade happy (and in Miami), but putting those two in the same backcourt smells like an ego-propelled disaster I would pay to see.

Don’t forget Miami has another rising volume shooter named Michael Beasley.

Yeah, if putting Allen Iverson next to Wade can’t inspire Wade to sign a contract extension, nothing will.

No question about it.