Answers few and far between on Allen Iverson's future in Memphis

by Chad Ford

Is Allen Iverson's career in Memphis over after just three games?

On Saturday, Iverson was granted permission to leave the Grizzlies to deal with a personal matter a Grizzlies spokesperson confirmed.

The question is, will he be back?

Head coach Lionel Hollins said Saturday night that Iverson's departure was "indefinite." Owner Michael Heisley said Iverson's absence has nothing to do with his displeasure about his role on the team.

“I’m not going to get into the personal reason but it has nothing to do with the other stuff,” Heisley told the Commercial Appeal, referring to Iverson’s unhappiness over his sixth man role. “I’m the guy who said he could go. It’s a real family issue that I don’t think should be reported.”

However, Heisley also said that there are still big issues to address when and if Iverson returns.

“There’s no question that when he comes back we have to work some things out,” Heisley said. “He’s got a lot of work to do, but we’ve all got to get on the same page. He understands what the conditions are. And we need to be less hyper about this along with Allen.”

Despite Heisley's remarks to the media, the rumor making its way through the NBA grapevine, according to a number of league sources unconnected to the Grizzlies, is that Iverson's gone for good from the team.

One rival GM, citing a conversation with someone from the Grizzlies coaching staff, told ESPN.com that the Grizzlies and Iverson had mutually agreed to part ways. According to this source, the word is that Iverson was causing too many distractions and the team didn't want to deal with Iverson's insistence that he be put in the starting lineup.

But another league source cautioned that these things often have a way of working themselves out over time.

"You never say it's over until it's over," the source said. "The Grizzlies still owe Iverson a lot of money. I'm sure they're going to explore trading him but it's going to be really, really hard. If they can't, they may have to swallow $3.5 million this season. That works out to $1 million per game. They have a lot of financial problems there. I'm just not sure they are going to give up just yet."

Iverson, who signed with Memphis as a free agent in the offseason, can't be traded until Dec. 15. If the Grizzlies intend to trade him, they have to keep him on the roster until at least that date, and they might also have to insist that they intend to keep him for the remainder of the season to keep teams from merely waiting for him to be waived. Of course, it's unclear whether Iverson has trade value at this point, given his problems with the Grizzlies.

A number of GMs I spoke with on Saturday night said they had no interest in acquiring Iverson via trade or off the waiver wire. "I can't imagine anyone wanting him at this point," one GM said. "Struggling teams now know he's going to be a distraction. Contending teams have to live with the fact that Iverson puts himself above the team. Even the Clippers backed away from him this summer and Donald Sterling will do anything to sell tickets. I'm still not sure what the Grizzlies were thinking."

No one is, especially in light of recent revelations that neither GM Chris Wallace nor Hollins addressed Iverson's role as a starter or bench player before signing him.

"That is, in a word, amazing," said one NBA executive who explored signing Iverson this summer said. "The guy has a documented history of resisting coming off the bench. The Grizzlies had a young starting backcourt of Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo. No one thought to explore it?"

Iverson started the season sidelined by a hamstring injury. In his three games with the Grizzlies, he has come off the bench. After his first game, he made it known he was unhappy.

"It's something that I never did in my life, so obviously it's a big adjustment," Iverson said of coming off the bench.

Iverson also indicated that he was off to a rocky start with Hollins over more than just a starting position.

"I think that's probably the worst part of all this," Iverson said Friday. "That while all this is going on, we have never talked to each other. That's probably why it's at this point right now. We've just never had a conversation, so it's probably going to always be hard for me and him to see eye-to-eye, because we've never even talked to each other. Obviously that's what you do if you're trying to accomplish the same goal."

Iverson ran into similar issues last season with the Pistons. After he was demoted from his starting job to a sixth-man role, he eventually left the team and didn't return for the rest of the season. While the official reason provided was that Iverson was rehabbing an injury, sources said later that the Pistons and Iverson had mutually agreed to part ways because he couldn't come to grips with being demoted to the bench.

Is history repeating itself? If it is, one GM was ready to write AI's NBA eulogy: "He's finished in the NBA. He can go hang out with Stephon Marbury."