LAS VEGAS -- Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley thinks that the Miami Heat are "the odds-on favorite" to sign free-agent guard Allen Iverson but hasn't abandoned hope of acquiring the four-time scoring champion.
In a halftime interview Sunday at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, where No. 2 overall draft pick Hasheem Thabeet made his professional debut in the Grizzlies' 86-57 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Heisley confirmed to ESPN.com that he still wants to bring Iverson to Memphis.
"I think he's got three teams he's talking to," Heisley said, referring to the Grizzlies, Heat and the Charlotte Bobcats, who are widely presumed to be interested because Iverson's former coach, Larry Brown, has said he's open to coaching Iverson again.
"Obviously I would think that the odds-on favorite would be Miami, because Dwyane Wade would like to get with him and I think that would be where [Iverson and agent Leon Rose] would like to go. But we're still talking to them and we'll see what happens."
The level of Charlotte's interest has not been verified and it likewise remains to be seen how far Miami is willing to go financially to sign Iverson, whose free-agent options at 34 appear to be severely limited in this depressed economy. Iverson's well-chronicled reluctance to come off the bench and the drastic dip in salary he's facing after earning nearly $21 million last season during his tumultuous stint with the Detroit Pistons have likewise led to the perception that he might actually retire before taking any NBA job he can find.
Heisley indicated Sunday that Iverson is "only looking for a one-year contract," which actually would mesh with Miami's intent to add no players with contracts stretching past next season to preserve maximum flexibility to re-sign Wade and land him at least one marquee teammate in the summer of 2010. Yet it's believed that the Heat are reluctant to come close to the $5 million for next season that the Grizzlies are reportedly prepared to pay, since Miami is already in luxury-tax territory.
It could also be argued that what Heisley regards as Wade's public "plea" for Miami to sign the 2001 Most Valuable Player was merely a respectful response to a question about playing alongside someone who has achieved as much in the game as Iverson.
"With A.I., you look at a guy who is one of the best guys to ever put on an NBA jersey,'' Wade said in a recent radio interview. "A guy who can still score in the right offense, in the right flow. So you can never turn your nose up at a guy like Allen Iverson. I hear a lot of people that love and want to come to Miami, but it hasn't happened yet.''
So Heisley would thus seem to still have a shot to lure Iverson to Memphis in spite of his pessimism, given that his reported willingness to make an offer in the $5 million range is richer than anything Iverson has been offered thus far in free agency.
Although sources close to the situation say that Iverson is holding off in hopes of another opportunity materializing from a team closer to playoff contention, Heisley is clearly serious about committing to a one-year Iverson experiment in spite of the persistent rumblings that others in his organization don't want to take the gamble.
Iverson would almost certainly be the sort of drawing card at the gate that the Grizzlies have never had in an eight-season run in Memphis marked by notriously low attendance figures, but Memphis already has the developing O.J. Mayo at that position and will soon be adding Zach Randolph in a soon-to-be-completed trade with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Heisley, though, is undeterred.
"What appeals to me?" Heisley said. "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.
"I don't think that [money is the thing] that's going to decide it. I'm sure it's a matter of pride. He's probably looking for as much as he can get. But I think he's also looking for where he wants to be to showcase himself."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.