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.
The 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 Mike Conley?
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 team chemistry?
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.
"A lot 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 per game.
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."