Michael Heisley, the owner of the Memphis Grizzlies, and the team’s staff are meeting with Allen Iverson as the sides move closer to a deal bringing the veteran guard to a very young team, ESPN announced.
This is another example of a young team trying to “get good quick” and gamble on a questionable, aging free agent. The locker room is a delicate place with young players. If Allen goes into that locker room and can’t handle his role behind younger, more prominent guys, it could mean bad chemistry as well as other problems the Grizzlies don’t need.
Iverson dropped his strongest hint yet that he will soon be joining the Grizzlies, announcing via his Twitter account Sunday night that he had a face-to-face meeting scheduled today with team owner Michael Heisley and other club officials.
“I want to help them develop a winner,” Iverson wrote.
Reached later Sunday by ESPN.com, Heisley confirmed that the meeting would take place in Atlanta, where Iverson has been working out in preparation for next season.
Yet Heisley cautioned that an agreement in principle with Iverson has not yet been reached, saying: “[The meeting] does not mean it’s a done deal. He wants to meet and have some questions answered and we want to meet.”
Memphis is believed to be the only team actively pursuing the four-time scoring champion and has established its willingness to sign Iverson to a one-year deal worth $3.5 million.
The Grizzlies, at Heisley’s behest, have been trying to convince Iverson to join them since free agency began, ignoring concerns about the 34-year-old accepting a reserve role or his ability to co-exist in the same offense with O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph because of Iverson’s presumed ability to generate interest and sell tickets for a franchise that languished in the shadow of John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers.
Today’s scheduled sit-down is the first face-to-face contact between Iverson and Grizzlies officials since the process began, with Memphis negotiating to this point primarily with Leon Rose, Iverson’s agent.
Iverson has spent much of the past two months hoping that a firm offer would materialize from the Miami Heat, New York Knicks or Charlotte Bobcats — the latter to reunite with former coach Larry Brown — but was ultimately forced to concede that only the Grizzlies have the financial flexibility and definite interest to make a commitment to Iverson after his nightmarish 2008-09 season with the Detroit Pistons.
“We’re heading into the home stretch before the season, and we have had interest in Allen all summer,” Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace told ESPN.com in late August.
Last week, Wallace described the prospect of Iverson signing with the Grizzlies as “50-50” in an interview with the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
“We’ll see,” Wallace told the newspaper. “… He’s in new territory. He’s never been a free agent. He’s never been a free agent this late in the offseason. I’m sure he’s trying to turn over as many scenarios as he can until he has to commit.”
Iverson played in only 57 games between Denver and Detroit last season and averaged a career-low 17.5 points, hampered by a back injury and his open struggles to cope with coming off the bench for the first time in his career. He would end up leaving the team in April by mutual agreement before the playoffs.
But Iverson has insisted in recent days that he is amenable to whatever the Grizzlies have in mind for him as well as the steep drop from last season’s salary of nearly $21 million, writing via Twitter: “Memphis is a place that I would love to play. The Grizzlies have good young players with a great upside. I love the city of Memphis, too.
“I would lead by example,” Iverson wrote.
In a July interview with ESPN.com, Heisley scoffed at suggestions that signing Iverson — the sort of drawing card that the Grizzlies have never had in an eight-season run in Memphis marked by notoriously low attendance figures — was dangerous given the presence of Mayo at the same position and the recent arrival of Randolph.
“What appeals to me?” Heisley said, repeating the question. “He’s one of the greatest players in the last 10 years in the NBA.
“Obviously I think he’d be a crowd pleaser in Memphis. But like I said … we’re in there but I don’t know whether or not we’re going to get him.”
Iverson is “saying” all the right things, time will tell if it is lip service to sign a deal or if he will lead the Grizz to the play-offs and beyond.