The theory George Karl doesn't like rookies has taken a bit of a hit. He's actually giving meaningful minutes this season to forward Linas Kleiza, who barely squeezed into the first round of the draft in June.





Nevertheless, the Denver Nuggets coach makes it known what he would like to do with most rookies. He thinks they would be better off playing in a 5,000-seat gym and traveling by bus.





"Personally, I think basketball is a lot like baseball," Karl said. "It would be better served if the majority, 90 percent (of NBA players went to the minor leagues). How many baseball guys have gone directly to (the majors)?"





Karl acknowledges the NBA won't have a minor-league system similar to baseball's because "the guaranteed contracts will keep the guys in our league."





But Karl does like that strides are being made with the new system that allows teams to send as many as two players to the NBA Development League.





The Nuggets soon should assign guard Julius Hodge to the Austin Toros. He's the rookie Karl never plays even though Hodge, taken No. 20, was drafted seven spots ahead of Kleiza.





NBA players so far have been going to the NBADL with a trickle. Eight currently are there, with guard Dijon Thompson having been called up by the Phoenix Suns after a three-game stint with the Albuquerque Thunderbirds.





While few expected a mad rush of 60 players to the NBADL, it is a bit of a surprise only seven teams have utilized the new rule. The Washington Wizards and Minnesota Timberwolves each have assigned two players.





"The NBA is in a wait-and-see situation," said Michael Cooper, a former Nuggets coach now heading the Thunderbirds. "I think they'll see how good it is for players to get some playing experience and work on their weaknesses rather than sit on the bench for 45 minutes (a game in the NBA). I think that if Dijon plays well (for the Suns after being in the NBADL), everybody will think that's not bad."





Thompson hasn't done a lot since his Phoenix return, averaging 2.8 points in four games. But if the NBADL needs somebody to make a commercial for the new system, Thompson would be a willing participant.





"I was practicing hard, not taking advantage of my situation and getting better and focusing every day," said Thompson, a rookie from





UCLA who initially thought it was a "humbling experience" being sent to Albuquerque, where he averaged 17 points a game.





NBA front-office types still are trying to get a feel for the new rule, which enables teams to assign a player in his first or second season a maximum of three times a season.





With NBADL teams each having three or four NBA affiliates, there is some concern regarding how much control NBA teams will have.





In the next year or two, though, the NBADL is hoping to expand to 15 teams, which would result in only two NBA affiliates per team.





There is talk some Continental Basketball Association teams could end up getting absorbed into the NBADL.





There also is a concern about an NBADL team having an overload at a position.





What if an NBA team wants to send a shooting guard to the NBADL but the team already has a top shooting guard getting big minutes?





If that situation arises, Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe says there has been talk about possibly letting an NBA team send a player to a team other than its affiliate.





Overall, Vandeweghe likes the new system but says it's "going to take awhile to get (it) established."





There are some who wish it had been in place longer. Ken Johnson, an Albuquerque center, recalls languishing on the bench for the Miami Heat in 2002-03.





"I really would have benefited if Miami could have sent me (to the NBADL) then," said Johnson, who played in only 16 games that season.





It should be noted Johnson's coach with the Heat was Pat Riley, who dislikes rookies even more than Karl.





Camby for most improved?





There is no precedent for it. But Marcus Camby sure has the numbers for it.





In the 20-year history of the Most Improved Player Award, no player with more than six years experience has been honored. But if anybody could throw a change-up into that, it would be Camby, a 10-year veteran.





The Nuggets center has numbers worthy of contending for the award. His scoring average has increased from 10.3 to 16.8, and he is on target to topple his career best of 14.8. His rebounding average has gone from 10.0 to 13.3, with his career-best of 11.5 in jeopardy.





"'Tree' definitely is an excellent candidate for that award," Nuggets guard Greg Buckner said. "He's a deserving, willing candidate."





But Camby could face age discrimination. The award historically has gone to young up-and-coming players.





All but five of the winners have been in their second, third or fourth seasons. The most experienced players to have won it have been Jermaine O'Neal, Jalen Rose and Dana Barros, each in his sixth season.





Barros, at 28 in 1994-95, was the oldest to win it, while Camby will be 32 when the award is handed out. Nevertheless, it's hard to ignore what Camby has done.





"His improvement, we didn't expect it," Karl said. "We thought we had a guy that was going to give us 15 (points) and 10 (rebounds), 15 and 12, 12 and 12. Now, he gets as many games in the 20s (scoring) as he's ever had in his career."





Still, it's early. But other Most Improved candidates are Chris Bosh of Toronto, Mehmet Okur of Utah, Kareem Rush of Charlotte, Boris Diaw of Phoenix and David West of New Orleans/Oklahoma City. West appears to be the front-runner, having increased his scoring average from 6.2 to 16.1 in his third season.





"All I worry about is wins and losses," Camby said. "I don't care about individual awards. . . . (The Most Improved Player Award is) nothing I'm throwing my name out for."





Lobbying for Billups:





Detroit coach Flip Saunders is doing some promoting for Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups.





Saunders put in a call to USA Basketball czar Jerry Colangelo to recommend the Denver native.





Billups is one of the 35 players Colangelo will speak with about possibly joining a national team that will play in the World Championships next year and the Beijing Olympics in 2008.





Down to the D-league:





Eight NBA players are on assignment to the NBADL:





Player NBA team NBADL team Ppg





Sean Banks New Orleans/Oklahoma City Tulsa 15.0





Andray Blatche Washington Roanoke NA





Ersan Ilyasova Milwaukee Tulsa 9.6





Dwayne Jones Minnesota Florida 9.2





Peter John Ramos Washington Roanoke 12.3





Donta Smith Atlanta Arkansas 11.8





Pape Sow Toronto Arkansas 20.9





Bracey Wright Minnesota Florida 24.8





Has yet to play in a game after being assigned Wednesday.





E-mail Chris Tomasson at tomassonc(at)RockyMountainNews.com





(Contact Chris Tomasson of the Rocky Mountain News at www.rockymountainnews.com.)





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