If I had a list of my favorite "briefest Nuggets career" players - i.e. two or less complete seasons played in a Denver uniform - it would include Iverson, Jon Barry (my all-time favorite one season Nugget), Keon Clark, Ricky Pierce, Don MacLean, Jalen Rose, Brian "Bison Dele" Williams, Orlando Woolridge, Jay Vincent and Darrell Walker.
Of all the players on that list, only Iverson is a top 30 all-time player in NBA history. And yet at 34 and admittedly several steps slower than he's ever been, he's joined 10% of all Americans who can't find a domestically located job right now.
Even though it produced mixed results, I loved the Iverson trade for the Nuggets when it happened back in December of 2006. Trading Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two number one picks to get "The Answer," Iverson kept a Nuggets team afloat that had been derailed by long term suspensions to Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. We - and me first and foremost - tend to look at the brief Iverson Era with a negative slant, but lest we forget that the 2006-07 Nuggets won 10 of their last 11 games and were deemed by many to be the hottest team entering the 2007 playoffs. And with Iverson available for the entire 2007-08 season, the Nuggets pulled off their fourth 50-win season in NBA franchise history.
Despite all the off-the-court stuff we heard about Iverson during his tenure in Denver (every Denver-based Nuggets fan has an Iverson story, most are rumor and some are fact), Iverson indisputably played hard every time he walked on the court and gave the fans everything he had. As he had done in Philadelphia, Iverson played through injuries, logged tons of minutes and scored a boat load of points. The guy played with a broken bone in his hand and still appeared in all 82 games in 2007-08. And that's why fans like me loved rooting for him.
The problem, of course, is that the 2007-08 Denver Nuggets weren't a 50-win, eighth place team. According to Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and Iverson himself, those Nuggets were capable of winning 60 games. And Stan Kroenke's $83 million payroll (an astounding number for a small market team) certainly placed high expectations on the regular and post-season win totals. At the time, I agreed that they were "capable" of a 60-win season, but I had them down for a more realistic 55 wins and a playoff series victory. So when that team not only didn't win 55 but barely made the playoffs only to be swept by the Lakers without putting up a fight, there was plenty of blame to go around. I initially placed the blame squarely on Nuggets head coach George Karl, feeling as though he squandered one of the greatest assembled rosters in Nuggets history. And even though Karl himself has since admitted to being "confused" during the Iverson Era, Iverson - as the de facto team leader along with Melo - must also be held accountable for what went awry that season.
Entering the 2008-09 campaign and figuring that Iverson and his $22 million contract weren't going anywhere, I thought the answer to the Nuggets problems was a familiar face to Denver basketball fans and to Iverson himself: Larry Brown. The myopic thinking on this end was that Karl would kick himself upstairs to the front office, the Nuggets would bring in his good friend Brown and Brown would take the 2008-09 Nuggets to the same place he took the 2000-01 Sixers (with Iverson) and the 2003-04 and 2004-05 Pistons...the NBA Finals.
But that scenario never had a chance of coming to fruition as the Nuggets were never going to pay out Karl's contract and bring in another $5-plus million a year coach. Nor was Kroenke going to commit $83 million to the roster anymore. Out was Marcus Camby and Eduardo Najera. In was Dahntay Jones, Renaldo Balkman and Chris Andersen. And soon enough, out was Iverson himself in exchange for Chauncey Billups in one of the greatest trades in Nuggets and NBA history. And we all know what happened next. With Billups on board, an already rejuvenated Karl and Nuggets team went on to produce the best season in Nuggets history.
Meanwhile, Iverson's tenure in Detroit was a complete fiasco, botched by a rookie coach, disgruntled veterans and a selfish, me-first Iverson. Rather than keep his mouth shut, earn his $22 million and at the very least fake his way into being marketable for this summer's free agent market, Iverson was by all accounts petulant and, pardon the expression, a total pain in the ass. It got so bad that the Pistons asked Iverson not to play towards the end of the season, and both sides cited a suspect back injury as Iverson skipped the playoffs altogether. Even before Iverson's Detroit act went sour, it was questionable as to how much money a 34 year old, undersized guard with a dicey reputation would make in the open free agent market, and during a recession no less.
All that said, I'm still hoping Iverson finds a new home this summer and it's clear to me that there's only one place for him to go: Charlotte to reunite with Brown. Both Iverson and Brown have showered each other with praise since their much publicized divorce in Philadelphia years ago, and Brown went on record this week saying: "He's done a lot for me, and if we could work it out – the money, the opportunity to play – I'd be all for it." Moreover, Iverson would be reunited with former Sixers teammate and no-nonsense guy, Raja Bell, while providing the Bobcats with the scoring punch they desperately need (the troubled franchise finished dead last in scoring in 2008-09). With Iverson on board coached by Brown, the Bobcats could conceivably make their first postseason appearance in franchise history. It's the remarriage we're all waiting for.
Regardless of where he ends up, I'll continue to keep a close eye on Iverson and root for his resurrection. He will remain on my list of favorite "briefest career Nuggets," but I'm most grateful he's not the Nuggets problem anymore.