Nuggets Sad To See Iverson Leave

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The marriage was good, not great.

The blockbuster trade that brought Allen Iverson from Philadelphia to Denver two winters ago put a few more fans in the seats and led to a few more wins on the court for the Nuggets.

But they went 1-8 in the playoffs with A.I.

Iverson and Carmelo Anthony proved that two superstars could indeed coexist, but the Nuggets' streak of first-round failures stretched to five during their time together, so it was time for a divorce.

"That's going to be the main topic, that it didn't work," Anthony said. "Of course it didn't work. If we didn't win a championship, it didn't work. I had a great time playing with (Iverson). He's going to always be one of the best teammates I ever played with and he's always going to be my friend."

Even after the divorce.

Entering yet another early summer vacation, the Nuggets decided they weren't going to offer a contract extension to Iverson, who is making roughly $21 million in the final year of his deal.

Iverson practically begged to stay, saying over and over he wanted to end his career in Colorado.

But the Nuggets saw shooting guard J.R. Smith's growth getting stunted on the sideline, and they jumped at the chance to get him more minutes while also acquiring a pure point guard who changes the entire complexion of their lineup in Denver native Chauncey Billups.

The Nuggets had been searching for just such a point guard ever since giving up Andre Miller to the 76ers in the trade for Iverson in December 2006.

While excited about Billups' arrival, the Nuggets thanked Iverson for the star power and hustle he brought them, suggesting he left a lasting legacy even in his short time in Denver.

"Allen Iverson was a joy to coach," George Karl said. "When we acquired him, there were all these nightmares and stories about how difficult he was, and he never was difficult for me."

He wasn't a problem for his teammates or in the community. Just the opposite.

But the Nuggets didn't get the big boosts in attendance and success they had envisioned, either.

They thought he truly was "The Answer" when he arrived after a blizzard and declared that he sure would like to see the team that could somehow beat Denver four times with both he and Anthony on the court.

That team was the San Antonio Spurs, who bounced the Nuggets out of the playoffs in five games.

Iverson noted that the team hadn't had time to jell and, with a full season together, he insisted anew that he was sure nobody could beat them four times in the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Lakers did just that last summer, exploiting the Nuggets' lack of size in making Denver the first 50-win team to get shut out in the playoffs.

So, many will see the acquisition of Iverson as a failed experiment.

"I'm a numbers guy," Nuggets executive Mark Warkentien said. "And we won 50 games. And the last time the Nuggets won 50 games, Ronald Reagan was president. If winning 50 games is a disappointment, then we're heading in the right direction."

With Billups at the tiller now instead of Iverson.

Kenyon Martin said he was saddened to see Iverson go but was heartened knowing a player of Billups' caliber was replacing him.

"Yeah, they weren't going to trade him for nothing," Martin said. "They already did something like that once, so I'm pretty sure they weren't going to do that again to us."

The addition of Billups might placate Nuggets fans who have watched the once free-spending franchise trade defensive standout Marcus Camby to the Los Angeles Clippers in the offseason for nothing but salary cap relief and recently decline to extend Linas Kleiza's contract.

Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks took issue with the notion the 'Melo-A.I. combo didn't work out.

"It kind of did work out. It didn't work to the point of them winning an NBA championship, but they won a lot of games," Cheeks said. "I'd take that 50. But the West is so tough. With them winning 50 games and they were the eighth seed, C'mon, that's a tough conference out there."

Rex Chapman, the Nuggets vice president of player personnel, said Monday's trade doesn't mean that the A.I. test was a flop.

"I wouldn't categorize it that way. Again, I would go back to (owner) Mr. Kroenke. Stan has proven again that he's not afraid of putting himself out there and taking a chance," Chapman said. "We rolled the dice with Allen. We gave it a good while to grow roots. And we saw some brilliant success at times with the combination of Allen and Carmelo and the rest of these guys.

"Other times, just like anything, it may not have worked as we wanted. But Stan has shown that he's not afraid to roll the dice again, and we felt this trade was well worth taking a chance with."