So here comes the twisted reality greeting Allen Iverson's arrival in Denver, an immediate and inevitable elevation of his public stature from a rebellious perpetual adolescent to thirtysomething sage and imparter of wisdom. Suddenly, he will be cast as the voice of been-there, done-that reason for the reeling Carmelo Anthony.
"A.I. will love it there for the next 14 games," one Eastern Conference official laughed on Tuesday afternoon.
Iverson arrives with the leverage and latitude to cut into Anthony's powerbase in Denver. The situation promises to be equal parts high drama and high comedy in the Rockies, a fascinating chemistry experiment complicated with an unmistakable twist: Because of the NBA's suspensions, it won't be Allen Iverson who must learn to fit in with Anthony, but Anthony with Iverson.
For the next 14 games, it will be Iverson controlling the ball and the shots. He'll be commanding the ooohs and ahhhs and ovations in Denver. Iverson will come to town on a mission, play with peerless purpose and temporarily turn these Nuggets into his own. The NBA's No. 2 scorer will quickly overtake Anthony to be No. 1.
And when 'Melo finally returns, everyone will be asking this unavoidable question: Whose team is this?
For the desperate straits that the Denver Nuggets found themselves in this week, it is still startling how little they had to give up for Iverson. Joe Smith was a contract dump, Andre Miller has steadily regressed and the two first-round draft picks will probably be somewhere in the 20s. No Nene Hilario, no Marcus Camby, no J.R. Smith had to leave town. It's a coup that Denver had to sacrifice not only nothing of its core but also nothing of its future.
With the way Philadelphia 76ers general manager Billy King has mismanaged his team into irrelevance, the way he banished Iverson and bottomed out his leverage, you could see a dismal deal coming for Philadelphia. Around the league, teams were unwilling to trade their starry young prospects for Iverson. Beyond that, King still couldn't bring back a major expiring contract. Bottom line: To trade Iverson and get so little is a complete embarrassment for the 76ers. It might be the ultimate unraveling of the King regime.
As it turned out, perhaps Larry Brown's consultant's role on the trade with the Sixers was his way of paying back Nuggets coach George Karl for the disaster last Saturday night borne out of Karl trying to avenge Brown's firing by Isiah Thomas. Maybe now Brown can score himself a consultant's job in Denver, advising his North Carolina Tar Heel buddy on coaching Iverson.
To start, Iverson will be on his best behavior. Only he has never shown staying power in his life. Why would it start at 31 years old? Kenyon Martin never wanted to practice with the Nuggets (nor the Nets, to tell the truth) and that's something that was a source of trouble between him and his coach. By next season, if Martin returns, those two game-night warriors will be faking it together through practice, leaving Anthony and Smith to ask each other "So why are we bothering again?"
Karl has made compromises with his coaching style in Denver, running freer and looser with discipline, with his style, and there could be some short-term benefits with Iverson. Sooner than later, there will be issues on the floor. Anthony returns Jan. 20 at Houston, and problems could start as soon as he takes the floor with Iverson that night. That's when everyone will be asking the nagging question that will keep chasing the Nuggets: "Whose team is this?"
In this age, the answer is no longer, "ours," and that assuredly will never be it in Denver. The dynamic of Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets changed dramatically on Saturday night in New York. Once again, Anthony showed himself to be a flawed franchise player with that sucker punch, a grave mistake compounded with the way he swung and started running back on defense in a sight never seen in his basketball career.
It will stay with the public and the players, and it's created a vacuum for A.I. to come to Denver and make the Nuggets his own. Here comes Iverson with all that been-there, done-that wisdom for Anthony, a twisted reality that will find this suddenly anointed thirtysomething sage thrilled to play the part in public.
No, 'Melo isn't going to like fitting into Iverson's game. This was Carmelo Anthony's ball, his franchise, until he gave Iverson the opening to come take it all away.
- Carmelo Anthony