Originally written on NBA 24/7 365  |  Last updated 10/27/11

Whenever this lockout ends and NBA basketball returns, former Philadelphia 76er teammates Allen Iverson and Larry Hughes want to be part of the action.  Iverson says he’ll “play for anybody.” Hughes claims he’s “still got some game left.”  While I don’t doubt that–physically–Hughes still has something left in his tank at age 32, and even Iverson at 36, I have my doubts that either of these two can help an NBA team win basketball games in 2011.  I’ll begin with Allen Iverson.

The Answer last suited up for an NBA game with the Sixers in February of 2010.  He scored 13 points on 13 shots in a 32-point loss to the Bulls.  According to his detractors, it was probably a fitting way for him to leave the game.  He scored a little bit, but did so inefficiently in a losing effort.  According to many, that’s the story of AI’s career… despite the fact that he was once the MVP of the league playing for a team which made the finals.

While I was a big fan of Allen Iverson and believe that he’s become rather underrated and unappreciated due to his ugly exit from the league, I don’t think he’ll be able to help a team win basketball games anymore.  I don’t doubt that he can still put the ball in the basket.  What I do doubt is his willingness to take on a lesser role.  In order to help an NBA team at age 36, Iverson would have to do the job of a prime Flip Murray: come off the bench and score some points fast.  If the ball isn’t going through the hoop then have a seat for the night and try again tomorrow.  AI’s never shown me anything to make me believe that he’ll be happy doing such a job… and if AI isn’t happy, then AI isn’t a guy you want on your team.

Iverson was an extremely special player, no doubt about it.  In fact, I consider him to be one of the most unique players ever to play the game.  Part of what made AI so unique, and so great, was his ability to carry the offensive load for a winning team night in and night out (while standing six feet even on his best day).  In order for AI to thrive, though, he needed to be surrounded by a team tailor made to his specifications.  He needed to be allowed to dominate the ball and do his thing.  He needed to play with guys who would be content with an offensive role that consisted of little more than cleaning up after his misfires.  Dikembe Mutombo and Eric Snow were perfect complements, and in 2001 it made perfect sense for a franchise to build a team around AI.  He was probably the league’s most popular player, and he definitely put butts in seats.  In 2011, though?  Allen Iverson isn’t going to draw fans to the arena.  He’s not going to sell jerseys, and he’s obviously not going to be anybody’s franchise player.  Due to his attitude, I don’t think AI can produce in any other role.  On one hand, I’d be happy to see him prove me wrong.  On the other hand, I kind of hope he just stays retired.  A comeback could do further damage to his legacy.  AI was the sh!t because he did it his way.  AI’s way was being the f@ckin’ man.  He can’t do that anymore, and I’m not sure I really want to see him conform and be a glorified Flip Murray for the LA Lakers.  AI never conformed… that’s who he was.  I think I’d rather see AI remain ringless than get one Gary Payton style.  That’s not Allen Iverson.

As for Larry Hughes… he says he’s looking to “have a role on a team.”  He even goes on to explain that he wants that team to be a contender.  With specifications like that, Larry encounters a possible roadblock.  Beggars can’t be choosers.  In the eyes of NBA teams, Larry is a beggar right now.  If he’s lucky enough to get an offer from the Toronto Raptors then he should probably take it.  Head on up to Canada, or off to Minnesota, or over to Sacramento, and put your money where your mouth is.  Show us that you’ve still got that game you claim to have.  If you show a little somethin’ then maybe somebody better will give you a shot in the future.  Basically, if Larry Hughes wants to make an NBA comeback he needs to accept the fact that he’s in no position to demand anything but a roster spot.

The main reason why I wouldn’t sign Larry Hughes to be that veteran who helps get me over the top?  His jumper’s too sketchy.  I can’t have an aging slasher with declining athleticism that can’t shoot.  Guys that stick around in the NBA until they’re grey haired are the ones who can be relied upon to knock down that open jumper.  Kurt Thomas.  PJ Brown.  Jerry Stackhouse.  They do exactly what is asked of them, and they make the open shot.  Can Larry Hughes do that?  Based on the fact that he’s a career 40% shooter… I’m going to say no.  Also, young Larry Hughes was only able to play 70 games twice in his career.  How many is 32-year-old Larry Hughes going to make it through?

Let me make it very clear: I liked both of these guys a lot when they were young.  I attempted to model my own game after Iverson’s, and I once watched Hughes score 33 points at the Fleet Center.  Unfortunately, I don’t see either of them making a successful comeback to the league.  I wish them the best in attempting to prove me and a gang of other doubters wrong.  They’ll begin their quest on November 12th in La Vegas where Iverson is hosting a two-day tournament.  AI and LH are supposedly going to be teammates for the first time in over 10 years.  Should be fun.

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