Iverson's return a question mark
Disgruntled guard Allen Iverson left the Grizzlies for personal reasons
Iverson, a reserve, is off to a rocky start with Memphis coach Lionel Hollins
Iverson's frustration with his role has been the dominant storyline for a 1-6 team
LOS ANGELES -- Allen Iverson's frustration was evident when asked to explain why he signed with the Grizzlies if he didn't want to come off the bench.
"Man, enough is enough," Iverson said as he dressed for Friday's game against the Lakers. "Is this the only thing that's going on with the Memphis Grizzlies? There's got to be something else when it comes to the Memphis Grizzlies besides Allen Iverson starting or not starting. There's got to be something else to talk about."
The headlines swirling around the Grizzlies during their 1-6 start have had more to do with the future Hall of Fame guard sitting, stretching and yawning on the bench than the exploits of any player on the court.
Less than 24 hours after the disgruntled Iverson's third performance as a reserve in three games this season (eight points and three assists in 21 minutes in a 114-98 loss to the Lakers), he was on a flight to his home in Atlanta while his teammates were back at Staples Center to play the Clippers. No one knew when or if Iverson would return.
"We know as much as you," center Marc Gasol said. "All I know is he's gone."
Team sources said Iverson took an indefinite leave for personal reasons that had nothing to do with being frustrated with his role; he did not ask to be traded or waived by the Grizzlies, who signed him to a one-year, $3.1 million contract in September.
That might be the case, but the look on coach Lionel Hollins' face after Iverson left painted the picture of a man who was tired of discussing the 10-time All-Star as his team struggles to find its identity.
"It's a team game and we can't win with one guy," Hollins said. "We have to have all 12 guys contributing to us winning. That means playing defense, that means rebounding and that means moving the basketball. I understand star power and that's to be expected, and I wouldn't even mind talking about Allen's star power if it was about the game and the performances he puts out during the game versus what Allen's said and what he will or won't do."
To say that Iverson and Hollins haven't gotten along would be a major understatement. Frustrated with Hollins, Iverson has taken to venting his criticisms through assistant coaches rather than the head coach himself, while Hollins has not tried to bridge the communication gap with a meeting.
"The worst part is that while all this is going on, we haven't talked to each other," Iverson said on Friday. "That's probably why it's at this point right now. We just never had a conversation. It's probably always going to be hard for me and him to see eye-to-eye when we never even talked to each other."
Iverson acknowledged that he could have expressed his concerns to Hollins.
"It might be my fault," said Iverson, who is averaging 12.3 points and 3.7 assists in 22.3 minutes. "I might have been the one who needed to take the initiative. Who knows who is wrong? I just know it's not going to get any better if we're not communicating."
When Hollins was asked on Saturday about his lack of communication with Iverson, he said, "If Allen wants to talk to me, my door is open."
During Friday's game, the 34-year-old Iverson sat at the end of the bench next to a courtside fan who appeared to be more into the game at times. It's an odd scene watching Iverson as a benchwarmer with bear claws stitched to his navy and gold shorts.
"The only reason I have a problem with [coming off the bench] and that it's difficult for me is that I never did it in 26 years of playing basketball," Iverson said. "People act like that's something strange that I would have a problem with it. ... The whole notion about me coming off the bench was started last year. Nobody ever discussed this before last year, and then once it happened last year, it's in everybody's mind. I just don't want to do it."
As Iverson sang Michael Jackson's You Are Not Alone on his way out of the locker room after Friday's game, the mild-mannered Mike Conley, the Grizzlies' 22-year-old starting point guard, was left to consider the prospect of a further splintered locker room as long as Iverson openly campaigned for his job.
"We're trying to work through it," Conley said. "I'm not used to it, I know Allen's not used to it and it's tough for [starting shooting guard] O.J. [Mayo], too, with the rotations. Allen has a strong opinion and he's frustrated and we're frustrated, but we try not to let [his comments] affect us, regardless of what he says. We don't go out saying a lot of the stuff he's thinking."
When the Grizzlies arrived for Saturday's game against the Clippers, the dry-erase board in the locker room had a simple message: "United we stand, divided we fail." Hollins seemed to stand by that motto when asked if he hoped Iverson would return.
"I can't predict the future," he said.
But what is your hope?
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