Thursday, March 5, 2009
The Ongoing Disgracing of Allen Iverson
First, the Pistons traded for him, and asked him to fit into a system that is not meant for him, that has never been meant for him, that is the polar opposite of a system that he could ever fit into. They were asking him to, at 33 and in his thirteenth season, become a player that is the antithesis of the player he has always been.
They struggled, a perennial powerhouse fading into mediocrity.
Then, Allen Iverson got hurt.
The Pistons have now won three in a row without him, with Rip Hamilton reclaiming his starting position in The Answer's absence.
When he comes back from a back injury, Allen Iverson will accept a role off the bench, per the request of his head coach, and the sake of his team.
Four-time scoring champion, owner of the third highest scoring average in NBA history, former MVP, and he's being treated like some kind of chump.
If you asked Allen Iverson to speak with an honest tongue (meaning if you just asked him a question), he'd probably tell you this has been the most unfair season of his career, as well as the one in which he's felt the most disrespected.
How was he ever going to fit in in Detroit if they were going to use him like they have? When the deal was made, I thought the Pistons would be the perfect fit for him. But I assumed the Pistons brass, namely new head coach Michael Curry, would be cognizant of the fact that they had to tailor their structure to accommodate Iverson, not the other way around.
Iverson has always been a player who dominated the ball in his team's offense, and his most accomplished season came in 2001 in Philly, when he was surrounded by one great defensive star (Dikembe Mutombo, acquired halfway through the season for shotblocker Theo Ratliff) and a bunch of role players (Tyrone Hill, George Lynch, Eric Snow, Matt Geiger, Todd MacCullough, Jumaine Jones, Raja Bell, and Kevin Ollie) who not only weren't scorers, but embraced the fact that none of them were going to have many opportunities to be one. Iverson accounted for about a third of the team's shot attempts, and everyone else picked up the scraps and did the dirty work. And A.I. won his only MVP as Philly won 56 games and made the Finals.
Now, he was going to the team long acknowledged and praised as the most cohesive in basketball, because of the ability of their key players to perform their roles so well, always within the framework of the team. The Joe Dumars Pistons of this early 21st century will always be remembered as a fiercely strong unit of five, who eschewed the notion of any superstar pecking order and stood as a shining example of basketball in its most idealistic form. In other words, they were all unselfish.
Three of the Pistons famed starting five remained - Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and Hamilton. Prince and Wallace are just like the people Iverson played with in Philly, only much more talented. Both of them are capable of more impressive individual statistics, but neither of them has the personality to even assert themselves (sometimes to the detriment of the team, actually), let alone put their own interest over that of the team. They just want to do the little things.
Hamilton is a scorer, but not a one-on-one player - he thrives off of his ability to score without the ball.
Here's what the Pistons should have done: started Iverson and Hamilton at the guards, with Prince, Wallace, and whoever up front, then play Prince at the point forward and make him responsible for finding Rip on those curl screens and feeding Sheed for the occasional post-up.
Instead, the Pistons are 30-29, and A.I. is looking like the fall guy.
Granted, we don't even really know how good Allen Iverson is anymore. Playing in the Detroit system, where they ask you to be one of five, has obviously hindered Allen's scoring average. And his shooting percentage is the lowest it's been since 2004. And his quiet accordance with his pending demotion to substitute status suggests that maybe he realizes he is past his prime. Or maybe he's just desperate and willing to do whatever it takes to win as he understands that time is beginning to work against him in his quest to win a championship. But something tells me Allen Iverson could still average 25 points a game, given the green light.
And sure, he may prove to be a huge asset to Detroit as their sixth man. Afterall, at least on paper, few players have ever been better suited for the Barbosa-Gordon-Microwave super-net-soaker role than Iverson. He's overqualified for that role.
But the fact remains that he's Allen Freaking Iverson - to paraphrase Mark Jackson, Don't you know his name? You know his work - and at the very least he's still good enough that he shouldn't have anyone even asking him to come off the bleeping bench. He deserves better. But I guess Snoop was right when she said deserve ain't got nothing to do with it.