DENVER (AP) -Allen Iverson wasn't 'The Answer' in the short-term.
His presence couldn't prevent the Denver Nuggets from getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
Still, they weren't sullen or sour this time around.
They sauntered into the offseason defiantly confident that the addition of A.I. will soon produce a postseason party that will last a lot longer than five games.
``I think we definitely have a great team,'' forward Eduardo Najera said Thursday. ``We have great players. As long as we stay together, we're very close of getting past that first round nightmare ... But we got to stay together and we definitely got to have a better year during the regular season - with no brawls, with no trades, hopefully. I can almost guarantee that we will be so much better next year.''
The Spurs think so, too.
``Next year, they're probably going to be a 1-, 2- or 3-seed,'' Robert Horry said.
To do that, the Nuggets will need to add an outside shooter to open up the lanes for Carmelo Anthony and Iverson, who was smothered by the Spurs and averaged a career-worst 22.8 points in the postseason.
``I'm excited about how good we can be,'' Iverson said. ``I think we have a lot of talent. Our biggest thing is to have a training camp (together).''
This year's Nuggets were a work in progress because of injuries, trades and suspensions.
Anthony and J.R. Smith were banished for fighting and Iverson came over from Philadelphia in December for two first-round draft picks, Joe Smith and Andre Miller. Then, the Nuggets sent Earl Boykins and Julius Hodge to Milwaukee for Steve Blake.
It took a while for them to mesh and they entered April at 35-36 before going 10-1 to secure the sixth seed in the West.
``It's been a roller-coaster season for us,'' said defensive player of the year Marcus Camby. ``The fight in New York, the trades that we had. You know, me personally, I wanted to see the A.I. and 'Melo combination work. But hopefully next year with training camp under our belts we'll get that continuity that we started to develop the last two months of the season carry over. That way we can get a better record. So we can get home-court advantage. I'm looking forward to next season.''
Iverson made just 31 of 92 shots after he scored 31 points in Denver's Game 1 win in San Antonio.
``I felt like this was the worst playoff series that I've played in my career,'' Iverson said. ``It was kind of frustrating, coming into a new situation, wanting to be the one that gets this team over the hump, get them out of the first round. And to play like I'm not capable of playing is just frustrating.''
The bench provided almost no boost as Smith got into coach George Karl's doghouse for a series of mental mistakes and Linas Kleiza shrank in the glare of the playoffs. Still, they were competitive, unlike two years ago, when they lost to the Spurs in the first round.
``The series was the same as far as the numbers, 4-1,'' Anthony said. ``But how hard we played and how we poured our hearts out there and played every possession like it was our last, you really can't have your head down like that, the way we were in 2005.
``Nobody on this team is supposed to have their head down. We gave our all to one of the best teams in the NBA.''
Of their top eight players, only Blake is a free agent and he said he'd love to return to Denver at the right price. But the Nuggets could be pinching pennies next year, when Iverson is due $19 million, Kenyon Martin $13.25 million, Anthony $12.4 million, Camby $9 million and Nene $8.8 million.
Martin, attempting to become the first pro player in any sport to return from microfracture surgery on both knees, is set to start running in July.
``My hope is can we get Kenyon Martin to 2,000 minutes,'' Karl said. ``Like Nene this year, I don't know what he finished up with, but Nene probably got close to 2,000 minutes. Any time any guy coming off of a serious knee injury, getting him to 2,000 minutes his first year back would be, I think, the goal, and not worry about as a starter or whatever.''
Those concerns are for another day, however. Karl wants to bask for a moment in the budding team before him.
``Every year I've sat here being optimistic. It was a spirit of optimism. I sit here now being real. I think we're a real team now. I think we've really got the foundation and the pillars to move forward,'' Karl said. ``The other two years, euphoria the first year, winning a division (last year), there was the pieces of optimism you could stand by.
``The thing we stand by now is how we play.''

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