Wednesday , Jan , 24 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

A.I. and ‘Melo: The Nugg Project

A.I. and 'Melo: The Nugg Project

Read any half-assed, AP-derivative report on Denver’s past two games, and you’re likely to come across the word “experiment” before long. It refers, of course, to the pairing of Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, who, as you’ve heard more times than you needed to, ranked first and second in the league in scoring at the time of the trade that sent The Answer out west. 

With Carmelo’s similarly over-mentioned suspension for his hit-and-run job on New York’s Mardy Collins keeping the pair apart for a few weeks following the big swap, most media types were left stewing in their own tentative predictions as they waited to see whether the duo would become the league’s premiere one-two punch, or simply a punch in the sack for G.M. Kiki Vandeweghe. Thankfully, I didn’t join my esteemed colleagues in tagging this as the next potential case of what I term “roundball blue-balls” (i.e. discomfort caused by a lack of touches). Instead, I did something very unusual – and advisable – for a writer: I shut the hell up.

You can check the archives on that one if you don’t believe me. As a matter of fact, you can scour the message boards, rifle through my outbox and ask my friend(s), too. No matter how hard you look, you won’t find word one from my beige behind concerning this exper…affair.

As you can probably tell, I’m not fond of the word “experiment”. Experiments, you see, generally tend to have binary outcomes. My sixteen-year-old self discovered this in the spring of 2003 during a chemistry class when, as the teacher’s most despised pupil, I was called to the front of the lab to perform an experiment he had detailed just moments earlier. Of course, my attentions had been dedicated to anything but his prosaic pedagoguery, in particular my fantasy roster, which I usually spent my science lessons rearranging. Rather than admit my ignorance, however, I decided to do the best with what I knew and see if I couldn’t bring about the desired result by way of some educated guesswork. To prevent a short story from becoming longer, I added some red crap to some blue crap when I shouldn’t have, and the end result was an evacuated laboratory and a few hundred dollars’ damage. 

Although my “Buy a new one, you rich motherf*ckers” defence spared your boy any financial repercussions, I learned an important lesson that day: Take risks, but never experiment. Fortunately for us Denver disciples, it seems as if the suits at the Pepsi Center didn’t have to set fire to a workbench to find that out. Hence the title of this feature and my moniker for the A.I. and ‘Melo show: The Nugg Project.

Why “project” instead of “experiment”, then? Simple: Experiments require good fortune; projects need only perseverance. Success is somewhere down the road for these brash bucketeers, and the matter is not so much an “if” as a “How soon?”

Timmy and Dirk may not have them on their hit list just yet, but they’d be well advised to watch their backs regardless. Right now, the Nuggets are something like a Smallville­-era Superman: precociously powerful, but still learning how to harness their abilities. Still, you don’t need super-vision to see that the skills are already there. Carmelo and J.R. Smith are leaping defenders with a single bound. Ivey, eleven years and twenty thousand points in, is still faster than a speeding train. Forget the cape, side parting and outer-underwear, though; this super-squad is more headbands, cornrows and arm-sleeves.

So, how do they safeguard against their early success going Bizarro on them? Well, that’s the task George Karl is charged with, and at present he seems to know what he’s doing. His questionable decision to turn The Prodigy into The Sixth Man appears to be paying dividends as Smith has put up thirty-nine points from the pine in the last two, a period over which the Cambyman has also contributed some mighty healthy numbers despite limited touches. What’s more, my main man Nenê, his tender knee still shrouded in enough tape to wrap a mummy, has shot a combined nine-of-twelve in mid-rotation minutes, making a strong play to reclaim his old starting spot from newcomer Reggie Evans.

This analysis may well be premature, and there’s a good chance that these early victories are more a case of beginner’s luck than an instant rapport. Still, whatever the next few weeks hold for Denver, the Nugget Nation can feel confident that good times are in store. If the team’s super-strength component, Kenyon Martin, can overcome the Kryptonite poisoning that was his microfracture surgery, it may not be long before they make it through May and have the chance to go for gold. Until then, however, we just have to practice patience and hope for health. Just hearing what Allen and Carmelo have to say makes the wait seem better, though.

“It’s like a new beginning for us.”

“I believe we can win.”

I can’t tell you exactly where it’s going or how it will end up, but I know this much right now: The Nugg Project is underway, and there ain’t nothing experimental about it.