DENVER - Allen Iverson isn’t exactly emotional over his only trip this season to the Mile High City, certainly not like Chauncey Billups will be when he returns to the Motor City in two months.
“It’s just another game for me. I’ve been in the league 13 years,” Iverson said of Friday night’s game at the Pepsi Center between Detroit and Denver, who teamed up in November for the season’s biggest trade.
Unless these teams beat the long odds and meet up again in the NBA Finals, it’s Iverson’s only chance to see the new-look Nuggets that he left behind when he was shipped to the Pistons in exchange for Billups.
“It’s going to be good to be back with the fans that had supported me,” Iverson said. “I have a lot of good memories from playing there.”
Nothing like hoisting a trophy or snipping the nets, though.
The AI experiment with fellow All-Star Carmelo Anthony didn’t work out. Although the Nuggets won 50 games last season, they went 1-8 with Iverson in the playoffs after acquiring him from Philadelphia in the middle of the 2006-07 season. The attendance jump they anticipated never materialized and neither did the success they envisioned.
It turns out the best thing about Iverson’s 22-month stay in Denver was his trade value.
The Nuggets are thriving under the leadership of Billups, a native son who is as good for the organization in the community as he is for the team on the court. Coach George Karl finally has the true point guard he’s coveted for so long and Denver looks more and more like a legitimate playoff power after five straight first-round flameouts.
At 25-12, Denver is off to its best start since its first season in the NBA in 1976-77, and Nuggets executive Mark Warkentien has done a masterful job of getting the team under the luxury tax threshold, shedding some $20 million in payroll and that much again in dollar-for-dollar tax bites — all the while improving the team.
“The priorities of training camp have been tested with some of the experiences we’ve gone through. Defense, to be more professional, to try to be a more serious, playoff-type team rather than an entertaining, explosive team like we were last year. The Chauncey trade re-emphasized those priorities,” Karl said. “Kenyon (Martin) and AC (Anthony Carter) and some of the older guys have been very good in the locker room demanding those priorities.
“In general, it’s been a pretty special season.”
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