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Posted: Wednesday November 25, 2009 9:01PM; Updated: Wednesday November 25, 2009 9:01PM
Ian Thomsen
Ian Thomsen>INSIDE THE NBA

Once an intimidating presence, Iverson has become the ignored

Story Highlights

Allen Iverson's announced retirement is disguised as an employment plea

Any team that signs him will appear to be capitulating to his demands

If a squad is desperate for backcourt scoring, AI could fit the bill

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Allen Iverson (left) let the league and his fans know he is available to come back at any time.
David E. Klutho/SI

Allen Iverson appears to have announced his retirement, but that doesn't mean he's retired.

"I still have tremendous love for the game, the desire to play, and a whole lot left in my tank,'' he was quoted in a statement released to Stephen A. Smith. "I feel strongly that I can still compete at the highest level.''

Iverson is using this declaration to let the league and his fans know he is available to come back at any time. The question remains whether he can accept a comeback on terms not necessarily his own.

Iverson fell out with the Pistons last year and the Grizzlies this season after both tried to bring him off the bench. His insistence at age 34 that he can and should be in an NBA starting lineup is killing Iverson's hopes of extending his career.

Any franchise that signs him will appear to be capitulating to his demands, thus weakening the credibility of management and damaging the coach's authority to tell other players what to do and how to do it. There may be several teams interested in the scoring boost Iverson could provide, but not at the appearance of being powerless to define Iverson's role.

It's as if he has backed all 30 teams into a corner, except for one new matter of fact: They are no longer threatened or intimidated by Iverson. They are simply ignoring him.

Not even the talent-starved Knicks were willing to hire Iverson under those conditions. Here's what they would have been telling their fans: Iverson wasn't good enough to start for the woeful Memphis Grizzlies, but we're so hopeless that we're willing to let him boss us around.

Iverson may yet return to the NBA under either of two conditions. The first will happen if a starting guard is injured on a team is desperate for backcourt scoring. If it's obvious to everyone that Iverson fills an emergency need, then it shouldn't be demeaning to hire him on his terms.

The other condition -- which appears to be a longshot -- would involve a change of heart culminating in an announcement from Iverson that he would be willing to come off the bench for the right team, especially a contender. In that case, he might receive several offers of employment from teams that could use a scoring boost in 20-to-25 minutes per night from a reliable sixth man. Just last year, the defending champion Celtics brought in Stephon Marbury in hope that he would energize the second unit. Marbury turned out to be incapable, but Iverson -- who averaged 26.4 points two seasons ago and 17.5 last year -- could be terrific.

Unless somebody is injured to spring open a spot in a starting lineup, Iverson isn't likely to come back to the NBA until he shows a willingness to compromise. Contending teams will want him to believe he should be starting -- they'll want him to play with the intensity to prove everyone wrong -- but they'll also want him to accept the role that is best for the team. If he isn't willing to do what's best for the team, then why should any team be interested? It's such an obvious point that it should go without saying, which makes it both stunning and revealing that Iverson can't see it for himself.

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