Iverson big ticket Kroenke can afford
It's a tough road to NBA glory. The Nuggets, who traveled to the East Coast with eyes on Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson only to crawl back home with three losses and an ugly brawl certain to result in player suspensions, have found there's no easy answer to make their team a legitimate championship contender.
Understand this: Iverson, intrigued at the prospect of joining forces with forward Carmelo Anthony and center Marcus Camby, would like to play in Denver.
And make no mistake, the Nuggets want Iverson badly enough to take on the three years and $57 million remaining on his contract. Committed to a relentless pursuit of a blockbuster trade and with franchise owner Stan Kroenke fully aware of the luxury-tax ramifications, Denver established itself as the leading contender to acquire the 31-year-old superstar.
But here's the deal:
Denver will have to beg, borrow and wheel to get this trade done. In pursuit of Iverson, the Nuggets have been peddling as fast as they can. Obtaining the Answer is harder than they anticipated, and the competition for A.I. only figures to get tougher.
As Thursday dawned, with many NBA rivals window-shopping but few ready to get down and dirty in trade talks with Philadelphia, the Nuggets saw a 48-hour window of prime opportunity to land Iverson.
Time was of an essence, not because the Nuggets hoped to pressure the 76ers into accepting a quick, take-it-or-leave-it offer, but because Denver front-office executives tried to seize the day and complete a deal before Minnesota, Boston or a new suitor had a chance to formulate a viable trade proposal.
The Nuggets' original working proposal contained two picks in the first round of the 2007 draft, 24-year-old forward Nene, plus the expiring contract of reserve Joe Smith and one more player for Philly to select from the Denver bench.
A third team was sought to participate in the deal and take on Nene, so the Nuggets could send an additional veteran in the final year of an expensive contract to Philadelphia, which is intent on clearing the salary-cap space to launch a massive roster overhaul.
The Nuggets gambled, trying to land one of the greatest scorers in NBA history without giving up Camby, J.R. Smith or so much as a single player in Denver's starting lineup.
What was it your grandmother taught you about something that sounds too good to be true?
While still pushing hard Saturday night to get A.I., the Nuggets have discovered these complicated trade negotiations will require all the creativity and poker-faced nerve that basketball executives Mark Warkentien, Rex Chapman and Bret Bearup can muster.
Denver cannot keep every key component of its roster, because a franchise payroll in excess of $75 million would seem excessive for a team that has never won an NBA title.
Somebody has to go. The Nuggets have shopped Nene, who has returned ever so slowly from knee surgery. As Denver has painfully discovered, it's hard to find a trade partner for a forward who owns a new $60 million contract and plays 15 minutes a game.
Looking for a journeyman with an contract to ship off to Philadelphia, the Nuggets have been forced to go with hat in hand from Portland to Dallas to Seattle, seeking help from teams looking to take advantage of Denver. It seems to me the Nuggets might have better luck moving guard Andre Miller or forward Eduardo Najera than Nene.
The trick will be for the Nuggets to exhibit patience while trying to stay one step ahead in the race for Iverson. After a brawl in New York on Saturday night, the team figures to be hit hard by suspensions. So Denver will endure its share of trouble without letting the distraction of trade rumors hover over the locker room for weeks.
Minnesota has little attractive to offer the Sixers other than young guard Randy Foye. Boston is not likely to get Philly to bite, unless the Celtics have a change of heart and decide to dangle young star Al Jefferson as trade bait.
What should worry the Nuggets far more is if the Los Angeles Clippers realize they're going nowhere, and vice president Elgin Baylor dares to trade point guard Shaun Livingston over coach Mike Dunleavy's dead body.
Denver seems bound and determined to get Iverson.
Sure, anyone on a seat as hot as the sizzling chair burning a hole in Philadelphia president Billy King's slacks might be tempted to hold out for a young talent such as Denver guard J.R. Smith in the deal.
If the Nuggets make an offer the Sixers find acceptable, however, you can bet Kroenke will dig deep and pay the luxury tax to watch Iverson stare down the giants of the Western Conference.
Please remember, Kroenke owns teams in hockey, soccer and lacrosse.
Basketball, however, is the billionaire's first love. This is more than a big deal. This is an affair of the heart.