Grizzlies Hope Iverson Can Help Fix What Ails Them
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The
Memphis Grizzlies got the Answer during the offseason. Now they’re
about to find out how much Allen Iverson really can help solve the
problems of a team trying to rebuild.
Grizzlies won just 24 games last season and had trouble scoring,
averaging just 93.9 points per game — among the worst in the NBA.
Iverson is a scorer, and he is saying all the right things.
But a torn hamstring during the preseason has left a few questions unanswered.
Will the biggest name ever to don a Grizzlies jersey willingly come off
the bench in his 14th season or start ahead of incumbent point guard
How Iverson handles the
situation will also go along way in addressing whether he and forward
Zach Randolph add needed veteran leadership or create a disaster in
The Grizzlies won’t start
to find any of those answers until the season starts Oct. 28 when they
the Detroit Pistons, Iverson’s most recent team. He likely will be
coming off the bench then as he works himself back into shape.
Iverson seems intent on helping the hapless Grizzlies change their
fortunes and has noticed the excitement created in a town where his new
No. 3 jersey has become a hot item.
of people, obviously when you talk about the Memphis Grizzlies, feel as
if getting to the playoffs is enough and is considered a successful
season,” Iverson said. “I wouldn’t have signed the contract if I felt
that just making the playoffs is what I was coming to accomplish.”
Making the playoffs is a different challenge with this team.
The Grizzlies finished fifth in the Southwest Division last season.
Climbing out of the cellar is tough enough, but Memphis was the only
one of the five teams in the division not to reach the playoffs.
Four starters return, including the three top scorers. Rudy Gay
averaged a team-leading 18.9 points a game, followed by rookie of the
year runner-up O.J. Mayo’s 18.5 points. Center Marc Gasol added 11.9
Conley got an endorsement at
point guard when Lionel Hollins took over in January after Marc
Iavaroni was fired, and he will open as the starter. What remains to be
seen is how much time he splits with Iverson.
But a clash over playing time and starting roles seems inevitable.
It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Iverson — the four-time NBA
scoring champ, 10-time All-Star and 2001 Most Valuable Player — is in
warm-ups at the scorers table before the opening tip, high-fiving and
hugging the starters as they take the floor.
“Everybody wants to start. I’ve been starting since I was nine years
old on every team that I’ve ever been on,” Iverson said. “It’s
something I’ve grown accustomed to. Mainly, I just want to lead. I’ve
been places some of these young guys have never been. I can help them
get to those places.”
He has been trying
to fill that role this preseason despite the injury. But the Grizzlies
have struggled, turning the ball over at least 20 times in most
preseason games. Hollins said he is only worried if that carries into
the regular season, and he’s also focusing more on defense.
“We want to be a running team,” Conley said. “We’re starting to realize
you can’t be a running team unless you play defense and make stops.”
The Grizzlies remain a very young team, having added 7-foot-3 Hasheem
Thabeet, DeMarre Carroll and Sam Young through the draft. Hollins now
has the luxury of bringing them off the bench and not having to start
rookies in every game as Mayo did last season.
Doubts remain about what happens with Iverson and Randolph if Memphis
hits the skids yet again. But no one expected the Grizzlies to be the
team to snag Iverson, and Randolph, also determined to reach the
playoffs himself for his first time since leaving Portland, believes
the shock of that will be the team’s theme this season.
“We’ll surprise people. It’s us against the world,” Randolph said.
“Everybody’s got us picked last, but we’ve got to show them different.”