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Nugget or fool's gold?

Iverson's out of Philadelphia, but his impact in Denver will have to wait on Anthony

January 05, 2007|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Practice?

Who says Allen Iverson doesn't practice? That's him in the flesh, all 170 pounds, hurtling through plays in a Denver Nuggets shoot-around as if he were on a 10-day contract.

Of course, the presence of his old Philadelphia press corps, which was there in 2002 when he couldn't believe he was being asked about practice and is here for his first game against the 76ers, may have something to do with it.

Iverson just went from 76ers icon to villain in the time it took to say whatever he said to team President Billy King. The team wiped his slate clean, or at least the good half. 76ers Chief Executive Ed Snider went so far as to welcome Andre Miller, noting, "I think we need a little dose of class around here." Outside Philadelphia, it's a tempest in a teapot that was expected to boil over long ago.

Here it's like the ball dropping in Times Square on New Year's Eve. When Iverson arrived, the neglected Nuggets popped up on the front pages while the Broncos, the local royal family that was about to decide its playoff fate, went inside.

"AI has been great," says Coach George Karl. "I know we're probably in that honeymoon stage everybody talks about, but the thing I said before we made the trade, I've never had problems with any player who plays hard. And AI plays hard."

It's not just local. All but a few teams tried to get in on the 76ers' fire sale that transfixed the league for 10 days. The debate about the trade is ongoing.

The consensus is the Nuggets will be better, if less than an elite team, although ESPN's John Hollinger said they're "a legitimate threat to win the whole enchilada. Yes, I said they can win it all. Everything."

Of course, everyone knows they won't win much of anything until the return of their suspended 1-2 punch, Carmelo Anthony (due back Jan. 22) and J.R. Smith (Monday).

In the meantime, the euphoria is over. Now it's like waking up after a New Year's party and assessing the wreckage of your living room.

Iverson is 2-4 in Denver, starting alongside DerMarr Johnson, Yakhouba Diawara and Eduardo Najera, who might not even crack the 76ers lineup. The Nuggets have lost three in a row, the last one -- indignity of indignities -- to the 76ers.

This surprised no one more than Iverson, who had just uncorked his pent-up bitterness at King and 76ers Coach Mo Cheeks, saying he wouldn't even acknowledge Cheeks.

"I don't feel I have a need to," Iverson said, "and honestly, just to be truthful with you, it's something I don't want to do. For what?

"I don't have no beef with them, but I don't feel it's necessary to go out of my way to speak to anybody, go act fake with anybody. The trade is done, but things still linger and I still feel bitter about the way things happened."

If only Iverson could fake it, his life would be a lot easier. For better or worse, in the age of image, what you see with him is the real deal.

The game Tuesday was an authentic disaster. Iverson fumed when no foul was called after Miller tripped him on an early breakaway, sending him sprawling. The Nuggets, one of the league's highest-scoring, worst-shooting teams, surpassed themselves, missing 22 of their first 28 attempts.

The 76ers won, 108-97. Already dejected and rejected, Iverson was ejected with 1:44 left and blasted referee Steve Javie afterward.

"I feel like it's been personal between me and him ever since I've gotten into the league," Iverson said. "This was a perfect game for him to try to make me look bad."

So much for the honeymoon. Now for the marriage.

The importance of being 'Melo

I'm not Dwyane Wade. I'm not LeBron.

I'm Carmelo Anthony. I like it like that.

-- Carmelo Anthony

Of the three young players forever linked by their arrival in the 2003 draft, James is the youngest, blandest and least accessible. Wade is the oldest, wisest and the one with the title.

Anthony is the middle child, the most accessible, the most open and far and away the most accident-prone.

His career has been marked by incidents that didn't make him a thug but made him look like one: an arrest for possession of marijuana; an appearance with old friends in an underground DVD that threatened drug informants; a fight in a club involving his fiancee, MTV veejay LaLa Vasquez, and her former boyfriend.

Anthony was also the moodiest of the three. Two seasons ago, he was so overwhelmed, then-Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe offered to let him take two weeks off.

"I broke down one night," Anthony recently told the Rocky Mountain News' Aaron Lopez. "I was like, 'I can't take this no more.'

"People kept telling me, 'You're going to get through it. Don't worry about it.' At that time, you don't want to hear it. You don't be wanting to hear nothing."

James and Wade had a maturity far beyond their years. Anthony was more typical of a 19-year-old rookie, hard to coach -- he's now on his third -- and loath to give up the ball.

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