Iverson's desire to play may be a one-way street

Public EmployeesBasketballSportsNBAGovernmentAllen Iverson

Few people have gotten rich betting against Allen Iverson and telling him what he can and cannot do.

The man has defied odds, as well as convention and coaches, for much of his life. He's arguably the greatest small player in NBA history and one day will have a space with his name on it in Springfield, Mass.

That said, Iverson's attempt to play next season sounds more like wishful thinking than legitimate prospect.

Iverson's manager, Gary Moore, said Friday that his guy "absolutely" will attempt to play next season.

Obviously, attempting to play and actually playing are two different animals. The latter presupposes an employer, and none have surfaced.

While no one knows how Iverson's professional endgame unfolds, one thing seems certain: A graceful entry into retirement isn't in the cards.

Basketball is what he does, what he knows. Does he intend to play because he still believes he can, or because the basketball court is his only true comfort zone?

You hope that he's not spotted outside NBA arenas holding up a sign that reads: Will Dribble For Food.

Iverson, a Peninsula native and Bethel High product, engaged in two of the three scenarios available to him last season. Both ended somewhere between unsatisfying and badly.

After Detroit unceremoniously shelved him at the end of the 2009 season, Iverson had three options: role player on a title contender; show pony for an attendance-challenged franchise; temporary hired gun for an injured starter.

Memphis courted Iverson and attempted to package him as Elvis in high-tops and mentor to a young roster. That experiment lasted a few months and all of three regular season games.

The Sixers then threw him a lifeline in December, ostensibly because they needed a replacement for injured guard Louis Williams, though they also hoped that the one-time Philly icon still had some pull at the ticket office.

Iverson played 25 games with the Sixers, though his tenure was interrupted and eventually cut short in March so that he could tend to his sick daughter.

Moore said Friday that Iverson's daughter is doing better, so presumably Iverson would be fully engaged next season.

But the question in the air today is the same as last June: Is anyone interested?

Iverson just turned 35. He has nearly 1,000 games on his NBA odometer. Though he remains a physical marvel, the wear and tear on his body, both natural and self-inflicted, has eroded his abilities.

Last season is liable to give greater pause to potential suitors, as well, simply because they saw how the Memphis and Philly scenarios played out.

Iverson's heart wasn't in the Memphis situation, so any franchise in need of an attendance fix will think twice about him.

While Iverson's heart was in Philadelphia, which he considers his professional home, his game wasn't up to his own lofty standards. He averaged career lows in scoring (13.9 ppg) and minutes (31.9 mpg).

Earlier this week, Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski was asked about Iverson and responded: "There is no news on Allen Iverson and we are not aware of what his plans are for the future."

That's not to say that Iverson and the Sixers won't reconnect, but it's also not exactly: We'd love to have him. Hope he calls.

The unlikeliest scenario for Iverson is role player on a title contender, not because he couldn't help a team that's a spark shy, but because he's not wired to play limited minutes and supporting actor. Not quietly, anyway.

Recall that when he was in Detroit at the end of last season, he chafed publicly about his limited role. He said he'd rather retire than play 18 or 20 minutes per game.

Not coincidentally, the Pistons parked him just days later.

Iverson will have to do a remarkable sales job to convince a contender that he'd be willing to take whatever they gave him.

And at this stage, maybe anyone else.

Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at dfairbank@dailypress.com. For more from Fairbank, read his blog at dailypress.com/thetarpit

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Public EmployeesBasketballSportsNBAGovernmentAllen Iverson
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