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Meet Allen Iverson, NBA Punching Bag

Two guys with problemsAllen Iverson has taken his fair share of blows over the years both on the court and from the media, but perhaps nothing like the criticism that’s been leveled his way since joining the Detroit Pistons over a month ago.

To hear NBA writers, bloggers, fans, and broadcasters tell it, A.I. is a washed-up, me-first has-been who upon arriving in Detroit promptly went about infecting the franchise with his deadly black cancer, an infliction so pervasive that the only cure remains completely eradicating its source.

Iverson’s past successes and will to win have even been called into question, and with the Denver Nuggets doing so well since his departure–they’re 14-4 with Chauncey Billups in tow–and the Pistons stinking up the joint (7-9 with Iverson in the lineup), it’s hard to argue with the scores of critics picking at every little crack in Iverson’s armor like ravenous vultures.

Beyond the mounting losses and roster disarray we’re seeing in Detroit at the moment, Iverson’s raw stats with the Pistons are further provoking the feeding-frenzy: through 16 games A.I. has posted career-lows in per-game minutes (37:12), points (17.3), field-goal attempts (14.4), and free-throw attempts (6.1). His sub-40% field-goal percentage is the second lowest of his career, and he’s been repeatedly torched by opposing point guards such as Devin Harris and Randy Foye.

Everybody seems to indeed have an opinion about Allen Iverson right now, and none of them are complimentary. He’s like Mike Tyson stepping into the ring against Buster Douglas and getting tenderized into a soft pulp of disappointment, failure, and unfulfilled expectation. Stick a fork in him, A.I. is done and so are the Pistons.

Well, not so fast.

More on Allen Iverson, the NBA’s new punching bag, after the break….

The Denver Nuggets are undeniably better with Chauncey Billups, but that doesn’t necessarily have anything more to do with A.I. than the simple fact that the rest of the roster is much more suited to a real, true PG like Billups than it is to the skittish play of Iverson. A better fit is a better fit, so let’s leave it at that and not make that part of this discussion into anything more than it is.

Iverson has had some difficulty meshing with his teammates in Detroit, without question. That long-successful core of Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton, and Rasheed Wallace had grown incredibly comfortable with and accustomed to Billups’ style of play, leadership style, and floor-management skills. Taking him out of the mix and inserting Iverson is sort of like yanking out a molar in the middle of a routine cleaning… or in this case, after training camp had ended and the regular season had begun.

I already wrote about how growing pains were not surprising and to be expected, but we don’t live in a patient world and most people assume that an All-Star is an All-Star and that A.I. should be performing better than this by now, no matter what. And maybe he should be (and I’m not denying that losses to the likes of the Wizards, Knicks, and 76ers are incredibly fucking annoying.) This one-season experiment of Iverson in Detroit, though, is obviously going to take some time… and besides, blaming the Pistons’ recent slump solely on A.I. is a short-sighted and incomplete assessment.

Has everyone forgotten that the Pistons are being led by Michael Curry, a rookie NBA coach who’s going through significant growing pains of his own and has made plenty of mistakes already? Or that they’ve been without a key cog in their frontcourt rotation, Antonio McDyess, for most of the season until he rejoined the team on Wednesday? Beyond the core of Iverson, Wallace, McDyess, Hamilton, and Prince, this team has almost nothing but youth on that bench, and finding the right rotation has thus far proven to be an unsolved mystery.

Excuses? Hell no. Every team has problems of their own, and many of them are doing a better job with it than Detroit has so far. They’ve dug their own hole, and they and only they are the ones who can dig themselves back out of it.

The point is that for all the flack Iverson has taken, and for all the struggles he’s had so far in Detroit, he’s hardly deserving of the firestorm of criticism blanketing the Internet, sports-talk radio, NBA broadcasts, etc. Spare me the kneejerk reactions to Allen Iverson and his sure-to-be short-lived tenure with the Detroit Pistons until next June when the 2008-09 season has come to a close. Then and only then will it be time to accurately assess A.I.’s stint in Motown.

Related Reading:
Witness the Predictable Growing Pains with Allen Iverson and the Detroit Pistons
Healthy Nene Hilario Paying Big Dividends for Denver Nuggets
Joe Dumars Pulls an Allen Iverson (and Maybe More) Out of His Magic Hat
Reading is Great! More Reaction to the Iverson-for-Billups Blockbuster Trade

Allen Iverson Photo Credit: Icon SMI

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