The Key Player in the AI-Melo Marriage
DENVER - I'm checking in from Denver to watch the return of Carmelo Anthony and the debut of Carmellen, otherwise known as the union of Anthony and Allen Iverson, tonight at Pepsi Center.
With Anthony coming back from a 15-game suspension for throwing a punch that he wishes he could take back, the focus here in Colorado has been about how the league's leading scorer and third-leading scorer will coexist; if there will be enough shots for a duo that has combined to take an average of 47 shots per game this season; and exactly which player gets the ball if Iverson and Anthony are the wings on a three-on-one fastbreak.
"Hopefully, they'll get the ball to AI and AI will give the ball to me," Anthony said with a laugh this morning.
Jokes aside, Anthony and Iverson will be fine out of the gate. The Nuggets have a relatively easy schedule going into the all-star break - four of the next 14 opponents have winning records - so wins should beget chemistry, which should lead to a rather nice honeymoon. Anthony and Iverson might very well cancel out each other and open the door for Gilbert Arenas to win the scoring championship, but the duo should be able to get enough attempts and points to be happy. Remember, Nuggets Coach George Karl runs the same, fastbreak style Doug Moe, now an assistant in Denver, used in 1982-83 when Alex English and Kiki Vandeweghe finished first and second in scoring. It worked from an entertainment aspect, at least, if not resulting in a championship (The Nuggets got eliminated in the second round that season).
But everyone knows that the Nuggets didn't acquire Iverson simply to entertain the masses and sell more powder blue jerseys (which, of course, has happened). Iverson, in his 11th season and at age 31, is running out of time; he didn't surrender "original Sixer" status to come to Denver for anything except a title. And, if the Nuggets expect to truly become a contender and turn the big three in the Western Conference (Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio) into a big four, it will really come down to one man who doesn't sport cornrows or a colorful headband: Marcus Camby.
Hey, Iverson and Anthony can score all that they want, but they can't shut down anyone and Nuggets won't win if they don't defend - especially out West. Camby, taken one spot after Iverson in 1996, is the one player who provides Denver with an interior presence and, if he goes down to injury, so do the Nuggets' chances in the West.
"I'm just trying to do my part," Camby said. "Everybody has to carry they're own weight around here. We can't rely on AI to score 40 or 50 points for us to get wins. You got to have guys who are committed to play defense and do all the little things to help us win. You don't have to score a lot of points to win ball games. I think we can will ball games on the defensive end."
Camby is the only player in the NBA who ranks in the top four in rebounds (second, 12.6) and blocked shots (fourth, 2.84), and he played at an all-star level while Anthony was gone. It started the first night of Anthony's suspension, when Camby had 25 points, 17 rebounds, seven blocks and five assists against the Wizards and continued through the final game against Houston, when Camby had 17 points, 22 rebounds and five blocks in a win against Houston.
"He's become the foundation and it's gotten bigger," Karl said. "We asked him to move from very good player to all-star player [while Anthony was out] and in the games he's given us, he's been incredible. I think he's made everybody aware that he should be an all-star."
Camby missed five games during Anthony's absence - the Nuggets went 2-3 in those contests - despite fracturing his ring finger while bracing himself after taking a charge against Caron Butler last month. So, his health is certainly a concern. But when he is on the floor, Camby makes a difference.
Iverson has compared finally teaming with Anthony to finally opening a "Christmas present," but he has also said that he has never been on a team this talented, including the 2001 Philadelphia 76ers that advanced to NBA Finals. That squad had Theo Ratliff and Dikembe Mutombo at center, players who patrolled the paint with a similar force, but Iverson added, "Ive never played with a Marcus Camby."
What separates Camby from Ratliff and Mutombo? He's much more mobile and can step out and hit jumpers, if necessary. He also has never made an all-star team, which is partly because of injuries and poor timing. Camby had his best opportunity to make the all-star team last season, but suffered broken pinky finger in late December, making a pre-filmed And1 commercial in which he said people can finally call him an all-star pretty uncomfortable when he was nowhere near Houston last February. He might get invited to Las Vegas next month, but Camby said that isn't his primary concern.
"If you don't have the hunger to win a championship then I feel you shouldn't play any more. That's why I play the game," Camby said. "All of us have been blessed to make tons and tons of money, but the ultimate goal is to get that ring. I've had a chance to go to the Finals [with the New York Knicks in 1999] and we lost to San Antonio and that makes my hunger more hungrier. That's why I'm still at it after 11 years."
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