GEORGE KARL HAS SEEN all sides of Allen Iverson.
As a defeated opposing coach for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2001, when Iverson led the 76ers to a thrilling, seven-game conference semifinal win. And as his coach when Iverson was traded by the Sixers to the Nuggets after a bitter ending to his 10-plus-year run in Philadelphia.
Karl had to plot against Iverson again last night, as No. 3 made his rock-starlike return to the Wachovia Center after re-signing with the team. Though his stay in Denver was short, the impact the explosive Iverson made was not lost on Karl, or the Nuggets organization.
"The A.I. experiment did not win us playoff games, but it did improve us as an organization and it did improve us as a basketball team and we made another step when we made the trade," Karl said before the Nuggets defeated the Sixers, 93-83. "He gave us a veteran experienced guy, we needed someone to help Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. Melo learned things from A.I. that [he could] only being with a player of that caliber and national recognition. I think they talked about a lot of little things that have an affect on players in this league."
After 135 games with the Nuggets spanning less than three full seasons, Iverson was traded to the Detroit Pistons for Chauncey Billups. The move turned out very well for the Nuggets, who advanced to the Western Conference finals last season. Iverson played only 54 games with the Pistons in 2008-09.
"I thought the trade initially could be a win-win for both teams, and that's what I was hoping for," Karl said of the Iverson-Billups trade. "I don't know all the details of what happened in Detroit. I think A.I.'s a gifted Hall of Fame player. But fitting him in is probably a little more challenging than fitting Chauncey Billups in. Chauncey has more conformity to his game."
As for dealing with Iverson and all that he brings to a team both on and off the court, Karl had a good mentor in Larry Brown, who was Iverson's coach for six seasons in Philadelphia.
"I think the one thing that coach Brown told me before I met with A.I. was, 'Be up-front with him, be direct with him and usually when you are he'll talk with you.' He's got a good basketball mind, he knows basketball, he understands basketball,'' Karl said. "I think that's kind of the way we operated with him. I hope to think we operate with every player that way. We spent a lot of time picking his brain as well as him conforming and figuring out the Denver Nuggets. We tried to figure out if he had information to help us out to become better coaches, a better organization and stuff like that.''
Karl thinks that basketball wisdom accumulated by Iverson could be a big asset for a young Sixers team.
"I think A.I. likes basketball, he has a love for basketball and he knows basketball," Karl said. "I think when his motor gets turned on he's aggressively into scoring. He understands quarterbacking, he understands the point-guard position, he understands playmaking. He understands who the great players are and why they're great. I think if he spends time with the young players, then good things will rub off on them. I don't know if that's been his forte in the past. Will he spend more time in the locker room with younger players? If he does, I think they can learn things from him."
One of the younger Sixers who surely could benefit from Iverson's addition is guard Lou Williams, who will be out about 6 more weeks with a broken jaw.
"I think that's going to be the fun part, being able to get back out on the court [with him]," Williams said through his wired-shut jaw. "We needed some more firepower. We needed somebody to bring us some spark, some energy and give us another option. Allen was the best available, so I'm excited for him to be here. Hopefully he can help us and try to turn this thing around."
More than just a new teammate, Williams has a chance to play again with his basketball idol. Since Williams was not on the recent road trip, he had an opportunity to spend time with Iverson after last week's signing.
"I've been the only guy in town, so I've been able to work out with him a couple of times and talk with him and pick his brain," Williams said. "We have the same goal as far as the team goes.
"A.I.'s my [Michael] Jordan, I've said that since Day 1 of me coming into the NBA. He's the guy that I looked up to. I had the privilege of being here two seasons with him and him being back, it's just an exciting time."
Iverson was a tad late showing up for his first game back; he didn't arrive in the locker room until about 5:55 for the 7 p.m. tip. The reason? No official word, but someone of importance was overheard talking about traffic problems.