Grizzlies still without Iverson
Iverson, an offseason signee, left the Grizzlies last weekend for personal reasons. He received permission from Memphis owner Michael Heisley for the extended leave and reportedly returned home to Atlanta.
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins addressed the issue in a lengthy interview before the Portland game, and he is approaching the situation as if he is not returning "because who knows how long it is going to be."
The absence means Memphis fans, who were excited by the September signing of the four-time NBA scoring champ, still have not seen Iverson in a Grizzlies home uniform.
Hollins would not discuss the specific reasons of Iverson's departure, acknowledged that it has been a distraction, and worries what happens if the Grizzlies move forward and Iverson returns. He also said he wasn't going to debate the issue of communication with the star.
"I don't want to get into a he said-she said with Allen Iverson," Hollins said calmly. "Allen has his own interpretation of things. I know the truth. He knows the truth. What I would like to do is let Allen handle his [personal] issues, make a decision on whether he's coming back or not and concentrate on what we have to do as a team, both if he's not here and if he is here."
Iverson missed the preseason with a partially torn left hamstring. When Memphis left for a five-game West Coast tour after its only win a 115-107 over Toronto on Oct. 30 he was still nursing the injury.
The 6-foot guard saw his first action at Sacramento on Nov. 2, playing 18 minutes and scoring 11 points. But he came off the bench, and did not start over the next two games, leading to nightly grumbling about his role, how the team was using him and that he is not designed to come off the bench.
Heisley finally came to Los Angeles last weekend to try and mediate the matter, eventually granting permission for Iverson to take leave.
He hasn't been seen since, and The Commercial Appeal, citing anonymous sources, has reported he may be contemplating retirement.
"I do know from watching him play from that brief period of time [out west], I think he still has it," general manager Chris Wallace said Wednesday on the NBA Today podcast on ESPN.com. "He's not finished physically by any stretch of the imagination.
"I don't think his career over. At some point I think he'll return."
Whether the controversy has been a distraction seems to be a matter of interpretation. "I've been through tougher things in my life," Memphis forward Rudy Gay said. "What Allen Iverson does doesn't bother me."
Hollins said, however, that the situation has weighed on the team, particularly when Iverson complained about not starting. The Memphis coach said such comments are unfairly directed at Iverson's teammates as if he is questioning their ability.
The question of starting and Iverson's role reportedly was discussed during a meeting in Atlanta with the Grizzlies brass before the signing. Hollins took issue with questions about whether they did their homework about what could happen by bringing Iverson in.
"People have indicated that we didn't tell him this, or we didn't tell him that," Hollins said. "Every detail that needed to be addressed was asked."
But at this point, with Iverson gone, rumors about retirement and the guard's obvious displeasure with his role before the leave of absence, Hollins said the team must move forward. If Iverson returns, the coach is concerned how he will fit in and whether any strides in the interim could be negated by another complaint from Iverson.
"I'm trying to get [the Grizzlies] to a certain place," Hollins said. "If we get to that place, and it's good, then if Allen does come back, then obviously, he has to fit into that place.
"Too much has been said about starting, not starting. I think what we have to do is find out where he best fits."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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