A.I. + Melo: Double dynamos a worthy risk for Denver

Updated: December 20, 2006, 2:15 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The Answer and Melo together?

It's a doubles team that's obviously going to generate lots of questions.

Lots of skepticism, copious amounts of curiosity and a fresh batch of bad word plays (guilty) on Allen Iverson's nickname.

With that, here's my first question to greet the pairing of Carmelo Anthony and Iverson in the (gulp) Rocky Mountains:

When's the next flight to Denver?

I love the gamble. I love it for the Nuggets and like it even more for the rest of us NBA neutrals. It's an irresistible concept, especially if you don't have a stake in this. Unlike the Nuggets, we can't lose.

Not that I'm expecting the Nuggets to lose. I'm fairly sure this won't be a consensus opinion, but I'm buying into the Denver vision here.

I'm sold on the Nuggets' belief that the Melo-Iverson-George Karl triumvirate has sufficient promise to justify the risky, tax-triggering expense … as well as the sacrifice of some valuable assets like Joe Smith's expiring contract and those two first-round picks in the June draft.

Outside the Lines
"Outside the Lines" (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET) investigates if two stars are too many. For more, click here.

You've got George's go-go-go offense (courtesy of Doug Moe) to create the extra shot attempts to keep both happy. You've got a few complementary players to put around the two stars (Marcus Camby, Eduardo Najera and Reggie Evans) who are reminiscent of Iverson's best team in Philly.

You've also got the back-pocket knowledge that there will always be some sort of market to move Iverson if this unravels, minus all the local-icon pressures that caused Philly to delay this move by a year (or three).

Most of all? You've got two guys who've never had this much personal motivation to make the next thing in their lives work out, with Melo submerged in suspension purgatory and Iverson emerging from a humbling two-week exile.

You can question the fit as a tandem – you're obliged to question it, really – but don't forget to applaud the Nuggets, too. This is big. This is bold. They knew it was going to take something ambitious and special – something expensive – to crack the Western Conference elite. And they're going for it, with no guarantees.

Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke will now pay more than $3 million in luxury tax at the end of this season, behind only New York ($44-plus million) and Dallas ($10-ish million). Denver's payroll will then rise to more than $75 million next season. But if you've got a boss willing to sanction those expenditures, you make the trade and let the coach figure it out.

Right?

Andre Miller's contract runs as long as Iverson's. He's due only $19.4 million over the next two seasons after this one, compared to Iverson's $39.8 million, but your owner just gave you permission to exchange Dre for A.I. If you're the aggressive new deal-makers in Denver – Nuggets co-vice presidents Rex Chapman and Mark Warkentien – how do you say no?

Right. You don't.

Especially when you know, at the very least, that Iverson will pay some of those bills by helping to fill up a building which lately has had an increasing number of empty seats.

He'll also instantly cure one of the Nuggets' biggest problems over the past season-plus, those long spurts of passionless play.

Passion won't be an issue for the Nuggets anymore. Not with the abandon Iverson still brings every night, even at 31 and more than a half-decade removed from playing on an actual elite team. If you subscribe to the theory recently posited on this Web site by Bill Simmons – and I do – you can safely expect that Iverson "will practically KILL HIMSELF trying to haunt the Sixers."

Does he stunt Anthony's progress in the process? It's the obvious and fair question. You can knock Iverson's supporting casts over the years and lampoon the slew of questionable decisions that got the Sixers to this point, but Iverson has to take some responsibility, too.

The record shows that he has never made a big-name sidekick better. It's likewise fair to wonder what impact Iverson's well-chronicled aversion to prac-tiss will have on the Nuggets, Melo and J.R. Smith specifically.

There are other question marks, too.

Will Melo's proven record in the clutch continue to make him Denver's first end-of-game option … and can Iverson accept that?

Are other Nuggets going to end up watching Iverson or get discouraged when he pounds the ball, as we've already seen in Denver when Earl Boykins does it?

Do Iverson's first 13 or 14 games in Denver, while Anthony is serving out his suspension, make Karl's chemistry challenge even tougher?

Who's to say, actually, that it won't be the combustible coach who ignites something?

And …

Of perhaps the greatest concern: Can Denver's frontcourt – with Kenyon Martin out until next season at the earliest, Nene slowed by his own knee (and weight) issues and Camby's injury history – compete with the power trio of Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix no matter what Melo and Iverson do?

Yet I'd still do the deal, allowing for all those worries.

I've heard various Iverson teammates over the years insist that, as much as they enjoyed and respected him personally, outsiders can't understand how difficult it is to play with a guard who wants the ball for 15 to 16 seconds every possession.

But in Denver, remember, possessions aren't even supposed to last that long. Karl forces the Nuggets to practice with a 16-second shot clock and wants them running as much as the Suns do. Iverson has never been on a team that pushed the tempo like this one does and you suspect, as a natural greyhound, that he's going to like it.

It's also not like the Nuggets are breaking up a magical Anthony-Miller combo. Miller puts up nice assist numbers and always has, but team insiders would tell you that Melo didn't always get the ball where and when he wanted it before this trade.

(The long-held view at Stein Line HQ: I can live with Miller's suspect perimeter shooting, because not everyone can be Steve Kerr, but I've always expected better court vision and decision-making from a QB with his reputation.)

So …

Rocky as this ride might prove to be, how could the Nuggets have refused a ticket?

No answer required. It's a rhetorical question. Just like you don't have to ask or guess who's my new go-to team on NBA League Pass.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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