Weekly lineup

 Thursday, October 7
LaFrentz comes back from knee injury
Associated Press

 DENVER -- Acquiring Ron Mercer, George McCloud and Popeye Jones has upgraded the talent base of the Denver Nuggets, coach Dan Issel said Wednesday in the second day of two-a-day practices.

Of equal importance to Issel is the return of second-year center Raef LaFrentz.

The NBA has approved billionaire banker Donald Sturm's bid to acquire the Denver Nuggets.

"We got formal notification late Tuesday that the NBA has approved the transfer," Charles Neinas, chairman of Ascent Entertainment Group Inc., said Wednesday.

Ascent agreed in July to sell the Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and the Pepsi Center arena to Sturm for $461 million.

The deal was expected to close Sept. 30, but the NHL delayed its approval of Sturm. Neinas said approval from the NHL for Sturm's bid to buy the Avalanche is expected soon.

Ascent originally agreed to sell the teams to William and Nancy Laurie for $400 million, but shareholders sued to block that sale, saying the price tag was too low. The Lauries recently bought the NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies.

"There is no question Raef is a key element in the future of this franchise," Issel said.

"Raef provides problems for opposing centers and can open things up for so many other people," Issel said.

The question that must be answered over the next week of training camp and in the eight preseason games leading to the Nov. 2 regular season opener with Phoenix is the physical state of LaFrentz.

Denver's top draft choice and third overall selection in the 1998 draft is coming off major knee surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

"I think he will be all right and in fact, physically, his knee is better than it was before he tore his ACL," Issel said. "He has worked hard in rehabilitation and has been ahead of schedule throughout the rehab schedule."

LaFrentz said he began the rehab process almost immediately after his surgery. LaFrentz's knee buckled while driving to the basket in Dallas on Feb. 25 in a game with the Mavericks.

"This has been one of the toughest things for me and I think it will be a test for me," LaFrentz said Wednesday. "The whole process is a test, a test of my personal character and my ability to get through it and all the hours of rehab it's taken."

LaFrentz showed little sign of injury during fast break and defensive team drills. He came down awkwardly on his left leg midway through the morning workout, pulled himself out of the drill and returned to complete the session unhurt and ready to move on.

"I'm all right," LaFrentz said. "I was out of basketball for almost a whole year, I have added five or 10 pounds of muscle and I'm anxious to play."

Issel predicted LaFrentz would be able to go full speed and be ready to go by the beginning of the year. The coach worried more about the mental portion of getting over the injury.

"I don't know how quickly he will recover from being concerned about it, but everybody has told me that right now the biggest thing he has to overcome is the mental part of it," Issel said. "Trying not to protect it and being afraid it might happen again."

LaFrentz said there was more on his mind than his left knee. The Nuggets finished last season 14-36 -- more losses than LaFrentz experienced in four seasons at Kansas.

"Nobody is used to losing and last year was a complete shock for me," LaFrentz said. "Most of us remember that last year was no fun. We want to make things different this year."

"It will help to have Raef back," said forward Antonio McDyess. "Teams have to respect his shooting and that will open things up for me."

Denver made it through Wednesday with only a minor injury. Center Keon Clark strained his left Achilles tendon and was listed as day-to-day.

Forward George McCloud (irritated left knee) and center Dwayne Schintzius (left knee bursitis) were held out of practice.

"I like what I see so far," Issel said. "We still have to get better defensively and with our rebounding."