There is a group of veteran players looking to return to the NBA if the lockout ends soon. One of those players should be intriguing to the Celtics, who will have to fill six roster spots with inexpensive veteran talent prepared to help for one last title run.
Allen Iverson has been looking for NBA work for a while now, essentially banishing himself from the league with a series of personal problems and flakiness. The widespread perception is that Iverson refused to accept that his once immense skills had declined to the point where he could no longer produce as a starter.
Unable to deal with that, Iverson pouted his way out of Detroit, Memphis, and Philadelphia.
Now, after a year off, Iverson said he is ready to end his career in a more heartening fashion. Knowing that the Celtics will be seeking help, Iverson’s manager, Gary Moore, told the Globe his client would love to come to Boston.
“I have already spoken to Allen about that and many other opportunities, and of course he would be interested in anywhere in the NBA but Boston is particularly attractive to him,’’ Moore said, “because of Danny Ainge, the organization, and one of the most respected coaches he knows in the business in Doc Rivers.
“He has the utmost respect for Doc Rivers and the current roster of players. Allen would relish the opportunity to play in that organization.’’
Iverson turned off many NBA executives by leaving the Grizzles because they used him as a bench player. He persuaded the 76ers that he was ready to return to form and contribute to a young team but he left the club because of personal issues and never returned. He hasn’t played in the NBA since February 2010, and even a brief stint with a Turkish team ended prematurely because of a calf injury.
Moore said Iverson has regained his desire to play, resolved his personal problems, and will accept a bench role.
“Allen has a lot of respect for the league and for the game and those who came before him,’’ Moore said. “But to get back into the league and to leave the way that he deserves to leave, that is very near and dear to him. It means the world to him.’’
With Rajon Rondo locked in as the Celtics point guard and Ray Allen as the shooting guard, Iverson’s role would likely be as a scorer off the bench. In Detroit and Memphis, he created issues because he demanded to start.
“I think that is so overplayed,’’ Moore said. “He said it on more than one occasion. And I’ve always known that. I think it was taken out of context. Allen would accept any role. Anything he can do to help a ball team is what he will be able to do.’’
Iverson thought he was headed to Boston in a draft-night trade in 2006 for Wally Szczerbiak and the seventh overall pick, a selection the Celtics eventually traded to the Trail Blazers.
“He was really looking forward to the opportunity,’’ Moore said. “And to come back there, why not come back? Why not the Celtics?’’
The Celtics also considered Iverson before he signed with the Grizzlies.
Acquiring Iverson would likely need the approval of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Allen, all of whom know him from All-Star Games and from years of going up against his teams.
Moore said Iverson is working with a personal trainer in Atlanta, trying to return to top shape. He underwent calf surgery a year ago but has not sustained any major injuries in his career - a career in which he has logged more than 37,000 minutes.
In his prime, the 6-foot Iverson was one of the league’s most dynamic players, averaging 30 or more points in four seasons. But he began to lose his luster after being traded to Denver in December 2006. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars thought Iverson could be the missing element in Detroit, so he traded the popular Chauncey Billups to Denver in November 2008.
Iverson demanded to coach Michael Curry that he start, pushing Richard Hamilton to the bench, a move that destroyed team chemistry. The Pistons allowed Iverson to leave via free agency and his reputation was so poor that only the Grizzlies would offer him a contract. Looking for a fan attraction, they signed him to a one-year contract that lasted three games.
“If most people would just look at Allen and judge him from knowing him and not what they are told, then they would have a much better understanding of him,’’ Moore said. “He doesn’t want anyone to assume anything. He just wants to play. That’s all.’’
A lot could be sacrificed
Well, the Players Association is again faced with a proposal that it doesn’t particularly approve of and a limited time to consider it. It can accept the offer and play a 72-game campaign or reject it and risk the season.
The owners have offered a 50-50 split of basketball-related income and limits on sign-and-trade deals and mid-level exceptions, and unprecedented constraints on teams that exceed the luxury tax threshold.
The NBPA said it will convene tomorrow or Tuesday with its player representatives to decide whether to vote on the proposal. An alternative could be decertification, which also may mean the end of the season if the owners do not respond by agreeing to negotiate further.
Decertification would break up the union, giving individual players the opportunity to file class-action lawsuits against the NBA, claiming they are being denied the right to work. It would also mean the end for NBPA executive director Billy Hunter as the players’ representative, unless the union re-forms and hires him back.
Such lawsuits could take years, and history has shown that unions don’t fare well in them. The players would have to prove that owners are negotiating in bad faith, but the fact that commissioner David Stern rescinded his first “drop-dead’’ offer, reworked it, and made another proposal might work to the union’s disadvantage.
One interested observer is former NBPA executive director Charles Grantham, who held the post from 1978-95. He told the Globe several weeks ago that he expected a settlement once paychecks were missed. Now, he feels the NBPA should realize it has lost and accept the deal because it is out of viable options.
“I think there’s nothing more than an agent presence that’s been there from the beginning,’’ said Grantham, also a former agent and now an adjunct professor at Seton Hall. “And the tension between the agents and the leadership of the union with regard to which direction they should take, I think that may have gone underground temporarily but now has surfaced again. I think it was always there.
“The interest on the agents’ part was to signify anything less than 52 percent we’re going to move forward with the decert movement, and it appears in an attempt to get there, they have used their star players as shields.’’
When the union representatives met Tuesday to review the owners’ previous proposal, Celtics player representative Paul Pierce was a notable absence. Pierce has been one of the main backers of decertification and organized two conference calls in the past two weeks. He has attended meetings in the past and become one of the league’s more vocal player reps.
Grantham said decertification by unions became vogue as a weapon in negotiation in the early 1990s, but he believes courts see it now as an attempt to create leverage.
“While the unions always have the right to decertify, the question often becomes whether it was a lawful lockout,’’ he said. “And as we saw in football, the court in Minnesota concluded that it was a lawful lockout. And in New York, it’s more pro-management. And those cases have never been adjudicated, always resulted in settlements.
“The problem with all that is working its way through the system would take forever. And the question is clearly whether the players would be able to stand that onslaught.
“Can the players stay out one year or two years or three years? Because that’s how long it may take in the courts. The loss of income seems very silly and certainly not logical.’’
NBPA president Derek Fisher has a difficult decision as the executive committee considers whether to send the proposal to a vote of the 450 players. If the offer is rejected and the NBPA pursues decertification, the season looks lost, meaning dozens of players may not return to the NBA once an agreement is reached.
If the season is lost, the league will hold the draft in June regardless, meaning there would be two rookie classes entering the league in 2012-13. If you estimate that 35-40 new players from each class make NBA rosters - first-round picks have guaranteed contracts and therefore will make rosters unless they are foreign picks who remain overseas - then that could be 70-80 new players. Nearly 18 percent of the league would be new players - not even counting rookie free agents.
Since there will be no expansion, those players will occupy roster spots usually held by veterans. And, more than likely, a promising rookie will make a team over an expensive veteran.
“The question that will arise now is, ‘Who is willing to sacrifice their careers?’’ said Grantham. “Because that’s what’s going to be on the line if in fact you miss the season. Because you have [approximately] 25 percent of the league that will have lost their income for the year, never to be returned, perhaps have their career ended. For what?
“That’s why I conclude it’s all about the agents. This is all about keeping that money in the pool, which represents lost fees for them.
“Don’t forget, these guys are going to be agents for 15 or 20 years. Paul Pierce will play for one or two more years.’’
IN THE CENTER RING
Shaq, Kareem are sparring
It seems that Shaquille O’Neal is using his biography, written with former Globe columnist Jackie MacMullan, to take digs at anyone he felt wronged him during his NBA career. His biggest target was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In “Shaq Uncut: My Story,’’ he says the Hall of Fame center largely ignored him during his tenure in Los Angeles.
“Kareem was never around,’’ wrote O’Neal. “And whenever I did see him, he usually ignored me. The disappointing thing to me was, being in LA all those years and trying to fill those shoes, I would have liked to have a conversation with him.’’
Abdul-Jabbar took to Twitter to respond, telling O’Neal that he should have talked to him before writing the book. He also posted a response on Facebook, explaining why he was not inclined to help O’Neal with his game.
“I went down to LSU and worked with Shaq on the fundamentals of the Skyhook as a favor to Coach Dale Brown,’’ wrote Abdul-Jabbar. “I spent time with Shaq in the gym and gave him some drills he could use to develop the hook shot.
“But when I followed up with his Coach, Dale Brown, I was told that Shaq’s father told his son he didn’t need to develop a hook shot and all he needed to do was smash everything into the basket.
“Shaq’s [father] felt like he was so overpowering physically that he should just dunk everything and not worry about developing a finesse shot like the Skyhook.’’
He goes on to say that because O’Neal became so successful with his size and ability to dunk, he did not want Abdul-Jabbar’s advice on a finesse game. And Abdul-Jabbar points out that he was not on the Lakers coaching staff at the time, though he was asked to work with current Lakers center Andrew Bynum.
“If I had any idea that Shaq wanted to learn from me, I would have been happy to have worked with him,’’ said Abdul-Jabbar, “but all indications that I had received were that he felt he was doing fine and he didn’t need or want my help.
“I am totally surprised by Shaq’s comments, as I tried to respect his privacy and never got any indication from anyone that he wanted or needed any input from me with regard to how he played the game. Shaq had a great career, and I, like everyone else, respect what he has achieved.’’
More issues down the road
Commissioner David Stern may have another issue on his hands, as Spurs general manager R.C. Buford faces a DUI charge after a single-car accident in downtown San Antonio Nov. 4. The team sent out a release saying the accident was the result of Buford’s low blood sugar, as he is a diabetic. Buford released a statement apologizing for the incident. It is uncertain whether Stern would levy a suspension or fine on a front-office member who has broken the law. Stern has a growing list of off-the-court issues to address once the lockout ends.
Kessler a lightning rod
NBPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler was the latest public figure to compare something sports-related to slavery, telling the Washington Post that Stern is treating players like “plantation workers.’’ His comments not only angered Stern and NBA officials but also union members, some of whom no longer want him involved in negotiations. Kessler issued an apology for his comments, blaming the late hour, and was allowed to participate in the most recent discussions. Stern has pointed to Kessler as the main culprit for rejecting many of the ideas proposed by the league last weekend.
The number of all-star games on the horizon is declining now that the players and owners appear closer to a deal. Former NBA player John Lucas is holding a benefit game for his foundation, which provides substance-abuse counseling and support for athletes. Mario Chalmers is holding a charity game in his hometown of Anchorage, and free agent Josh Howard is putting on an all-star game in Dallas. Allen Iverson postponed the game he had set for this weekend in Las Vegas, a contest that was supposed to include Paul Pierce. The World All-Star Classic appears done, as no makeup date was announced for the opening game in Puerto Rico . . . Add former Celtic Stephon Marbury to the list of players and ex-players who are criticizing Michael Jordan for his hard-line stance as an owner less than 10 years after his playing days. Jordan earned $33 million during the 1997-98 season for the Bulls, a deal that encouraged owners to place a maximum on contracts. Marbury, who played professionally in China last season, called out Jordan for not being more supportive of current players. NBPA president Derek Fisher said he found it “interesting’’ how some former players are being critical of their successors now that they have retired . . . Teams are privately preparing for the possibility of the “amnesty clause’’ returning. This time, it may be that dropping a bad contract would not inflict future damage on a team’s salary cap. Under the previous amnesty clause, teams could buy out one current contract for a reduced price and limited salary cap damage.