- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2006

The pairing of Allen Iverson with Carmelo Anthony could work.

It could work if Iverson is willing to become a player who averages 20 points and 10 assists instead of 30 points on poor shot selection. It could work if Iverson embraces the tenets of practice and teamwork.

It could work because Iverson may have met his match in Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, who hasn’t met a mercurial point guard he didn’t like.

Karl is one of the few coaches up to the special challenges Iverson presents because he enjoys conflict.

Karl was Iverson before Iverson — a point guard with a chip on his shoulder — except he had no talent. But he parlayed muscle, guts and luck into a nice career at North Carolina and a forgettable five-year stint with the San Antonio Spurs, which included two infamous fights, one with Pete Maravich in an exhibition game.

He became an NBA coach at age 33 and burned out of the league by age 37, fired by the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, partly because of fights with his own players.

“I was rebellious and out of control,” Karl told Esquire in 2002.

After a second stint in the CBA, Karl revived his career with the Seattle SuperSonics, averaging 59.5 wins for six seasons, mostly thanks to Gary Payton, a snarling, sneering point guard not unlike Karl.

The coach called Payton “the best player I ever coached” and “dirty” and “vicious,” and he meant it all as a compliment.

Karl became the highest-paid coach in sports with the Milwaukee Bucks, who thrived behind the decision-making of motormouth Sam Cassell, another point guard who plays with a chip on his shoulder.

But during the 2002-03 season, Karl led the Bucks from first place in the Eastern Conference at midseason to out the playoffs on the last night of the season. Much of that season was undone by the acquisition of Anthony Mason, a signing encouraged by Karl.

If the Iverson trade doesn’t work, it wouldn’t be the first time Karl messed up a good thing.

But Iverson falls into the Karl family of point guards. He plays like he has something to prove, and after missing the playoffs last season, he does.

The acquisition of Iverson doesn’t put the Nuggets among the Western Conference elite with the San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks. They are in the next tier, right beside the young but super-efficient Utah Jazz.

Then again, in Iverson’s first game with the Nuggets, he scored 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting with 10 assists and two turnovers.

Karl may be able to scratch and claw the Nuggets the rest of the way.

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