Jack Dempsey, Associated Press
Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl walks on the court before the start of the team's season opener against the Utah Jazz during an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010, in Denver.

DENVER — If you're wondering, Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans did not steal the bags they're carrying around from their little sisters.

The matching pink princess backpacks are theirs.

The Utah Jazz rookies didn't buy them, though.

Consider the cute carry-ons their Welcome to the NBA gifts from their more seasoned and experienced teammates.

Utah's newcomers, who both made their professional debuts in the Jazz's blowout loss to the Nuggets on Wednesday, will thank them later for that kind gesture.

And like American Express cards, the rookies can't leave home without them. Per team tradition and good-natured hazing fun, the first-year players are required to tote them around throughout the season. Just like Kosta Koufos, Wesley Matthews and others have had to do in the past.

"It can be kind of embarrassing," the 20-year-old Hayward said, laughing. "But me and Jeremy are going to rock them, so it'll be all right. We'll make them cool."

It could be worse.

Deron Williams said Jazz veterans are taking it easy on their newbies compared to his list of rookie duties.

Williams had to get doughnuts for shootaround sessions on the morning of games. Sometimes, he'd have to retrieve basketballs teammates would punt high into the arena. He also had to deliver a newspaper and coffee to Greg Ostertag every morning.

"All we've done so far is pink backpacks. We've been pretty good," Williams said. "They're pretty good rooks, so we're taking it easy on them. It's the bad ones that get stuff done to them."

And, he added without getting specific, they've had some of those before.

Hayward and Evans, however, are taking a grin-and-bear-it approach to the prank.

"They haven't really been too harsh on us," Hayward said.

"Not excited at all, but I'll do it," a smiling Evans added. "Whatever it takes."

Hayward laughed about how at least the bags have wheels.

"You've got to do it for a year," Hayward said. "I'm thankful I'm on the team."

COVETING COACH: George Karl coaches the Nuggets and a former NBA Finals MVP playmaker in Chauncey Billups. But Karl doesn't hide the fact that he's a big fan of Deron Williams. He's even admitted that he wanted to trade up in the 2005 draft to nab the point guard out of Illinois for Denver.

"Deron, in my opinion, is probably my favorite point guard in the league other than Steve Nash," Karl said prior to Wednesday's season-opener.

Karl, who coached Williams at the All-Star Game this past February, noted one major difference. Williams is only 26; Nash is 10 years older.

"I think," Karl added, "you're looking at a guy who's going to be one of the best point guards in the game for many, many years."

BACK AT YA: Wednesday's game was somewhat special for Williams because he was able to be there as Karl returned to the Nuggets' bench after missing part of last season — and the first-round playoff loss to Utah — while fighting throat and neck cancer.

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"I like Coach Karl a lot," Williams said. "It's good to see him back on the court. Man, he was in my prayers a lot, definitely. ... He went through some difficult things with his health. I'm just glad he's healthy and alive."

REMEMBER US?: They didn't stay long enough to establish deep roots, but Utah newcomers Francisco Elson and Earl Watson both have called the Mile High City home during their NBA careers.

Elson was drafted by Denver in 1999, in fact, but the 41st pick headed overseas for three years before playing with the Nuggets from 2003-06.

Watson spent just over half of the 2005-06 campaign in Denver prior to being traded to Seattle.

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