Iverson is not the answer
Truth be told, Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson would not be a good fit in the Celtics lineup alongside Paul Pierce. (AP Photo)
Count me among the people who urged the Celtics to trade their draft pick for a veteran.
Can't say 21-year-old Sebastian Telfair was exactly what I had in mind, particularly since he spent the better part of last season buried on the end of the bench of one of the league's worst teams. A thumb injury cost Telfair his spot in the Blazers rotation, which made him expendable, which brought him here. Some believe Telfair just needs a little more seasoning to develop into a legitimate NBA talent, like former Celtic Chauncey Billups. Others believe all he'll ever be is a ``nice" player for a contending team.
At present, Boston still does not qualify, and this deal should not be misconstrued as the catalyst that will turn everything around. Telfair was acquired because he made it possible to unload Raef LaFrentz's cumbersome contract (that's after Theo Ratliff is off the books in two years), while adding a true point guard with uptempo skills.
That fits the style of the Celtics, who have carved out a little cap space to go along with a roster loaded with kids who may -- or may not -- turn into impact players. The plan is to use some of these select youngsters to pry away a veteran star.
I'm all for that. But please don't blow it by taking on Allen Iverson.
First, my Iverson disclaimer: When he's on the floor and between the lines, all 165 pounds of him, there are few guys who play with more grit. On game night, Iverson plays hard, plays hurt, and plays with heart.
If only he would approach the rest of his career with the same passion and commitment. Instead, he has often diminished his immense talent by proving to be a distraction to his coaches and his teammates.
Iverson has problems with certain rules. He has trouble being on time. He has trouble taking care of himself. He has trouble respecting coaches. He has trouble understanding the value of practice. In fact, he rarely practices at all. Sometimes, this is fine with his club. Often times, it isn't.
His teammates in Philly have grown to accept the A.I. star system. I suppose Boston's players could, too. But it sure seems like a mixed message to put the future of the franchise in Iverson's hands when you are trying to convince young guys such as Al Jefferson to take their conditioning programs and their practice habits more seriously.
Then there's the matter of ball control. Iverson has shown the willingness to dish when he's trapped or doubled; in fact, he averaged 7.4 assists for the Sixers last season. But when the game is on the line, Iverson needs the ball in his hands -- just the way Paul Pierce does. Could those two make each other better? Perhaps. But it would be naive to believe there won't be some struggles to establish a pecking order.
One more issue with Iverson: he's 31, and that tiny, little body has already absorbed a tremendous beating. He missed 10 games last season, and those numbers will only increase as he gets older. We've seen before how quickly guards disintegrate when their bodies betray them.
If Iverson was the X factor that put Boston over the top, that would be one thing. But this team is not far enough along for that.
As one general manager said to me, ``I can see them trading for him if they thought he'd get them to the Finals. But to win 50 games? What's the point?"
We all know the answer to that. Pair Iverson with Pierce, and people will want to see them play. If nothing else, Iverson will always be a draw.
But at what cost?
Two summers ago, this franchise expressed concern about Pierce's extracurricular activities, specifically his interest in the nightlife. If you think Pierce likes to party, wait until you see Iverson in action. He'll make the Truth look like a shut-in.
There's no question Danny Ainge knows this. He has done his homework, and talked to the coaches who have been casualties of Iverson's habit of going Sinatra (I'll do it ``My Way") on teams. Ainge loves Iverson's game, and you can't blame him, but he must weigh that with the imprint the star will put on a very green team.
Of course, this one might not be Danny's call. Celtics ownership is thirsting to be relevant again in this town, and Iverson would certainly create some buzz -- not to mention revenue. But those are not reasons to make a deal. Ask Dominique Wilkins about his ill-fated stint with the Celtics.
Ainge acknowledged yesterday, ``It's my job to explore each of the big names that are supposedly available. And that's what I'll do."
Make no mistake about it -- Iverson is available. General manager Billy King has to move him, and he needs to do it by the end of the summer. Iverson and the Sixers have been moving toward a split for the better part of three or four seasons, as Iverson has chewed up and spit out a succession of Philly coaches. Boston is hardly the only suitor. Denver is in the hunt, and has bargaining chips such as Nené and Andre Miller and Kenyon Martin.
Boston's chance at striking a deal is less likely now than it was two days ago, before the draft. With free agency approaching, teams now have to consider contracts, sign and trade agreements, etc. The Celtics will likely need the assistance of a third (or even fourth) team to make it happen, be it Cleveland, Utah, Memphis or another yet-to-be identified franchise.
The Celtics already dangled Wally Szczerbiak, but league sources confirmed Philly has no interest in him, which means he would only be of value in a three-way transaction. If the Celtics want Iverson, it will cost them Jefferson (don't buy that untouchable nonsense -- who do you think has more cache at the concession stands, A.I. or Big Al?), and a combination of players such as Gerald Green (the Sixers like him), Ryan Gomes (King is a fan) or even possibly Delonte West now that Telfair is in town.
In other words, if Iverson is coming, that means some of the key building blocks to the future are going. So I ask again: does Iverson get you to the Finals, or does he win you 50 games? Are both scenarios worth it?
In theory, Boston could package Jefferson, Green, and the recently acquired Ratliff for Iverson, as long as they wait until Aug. 28 per order of the collective bargaining agreement. Those salary numbers work.
Now, if we were talking about bringing Indiana big man Jermaine O'Neal aboard for that package, sign me up. But Larry Bird told me yesterday O'Neal isn't going anywhere.
``I don't know where this stuff keeps coming from," Bird said. ``I am not trading Jermaine O'Neal."
Another old friend, Minnesota boss Kevin McHale, has said he's not trading Kevin Garnett, either -- at least for one more season.
Too bad. If O'Neal or Garnett were available, I'd say bring them on. But in Iverson you have a very expensive guy under 6 feet who has a window of three years to get it done for you -- maybe less if he falters physically.
If Iverson were 26, that would be one thing. But soon enough A.I. is going to stand for Already Injured. On practice days, he already stands for Always Inert.
Let me suggest one more moniker for the Celtics: Ain't Interested.
Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.