NBA GM’s are very intelligent, highly effective men who are basically being asked to predict the future of immature boys. I am curious as to how Masai Ujiri is going to do from here on out. I believe his most difficult test is ahead of him. Here is why.
Kiki Vandeweghe did a great job as the first Nuggets GM in a while to have a real plan and implement it. Dumping large amounts of long term salary and tanking with Hardaway, Juwan Howard and Donell Harvey was genius and jump-started the rebuilding process. By the way, I remember watching Harvey a couple times and really wondering if he could be part of the Nuggets future. He was drafted after one year in Florida and I still remember my thoughts after watching him play a couple games. If I remember correctly I was thinking something along the lines of “this guy sucks.” Missed dunks, a bad handle and no shot culminated in a short stay for Harvey. For those who care he played for the Mavericks, Magic, Suns, Hawks and Nets. After a CBA stint he spent time in Europe and was last seen playing in China. I wonder if he ever developed that shot?
Unfortunately Kiki fell prey to the “potential” pitfall and drafted Nikoloz Skitishvili. Skita single-handedly killed Kiki’s career in Denver and although Kiki made several astute moves with other players his tenure was doomed. Kiki didn’t help his cause by giving Rod Thorn and the Nets three draft picks for the opportunity to overpay Kenyon Martin. (As best I can tell those picks turned into Josh Boone, Antoine Wright and Marcus Williams...forgettable.) We do need to keep in mind that the Atlanta Hawks were offering Kenyon even more money. Kenyon went on to play intermittently because of a variety of issues ranging from knee surgery on both knees to “conduct detrimental to the team” to family issues and finally conflict with coach Karl. Through it all Kiki stuck with Kenyon and refused to trade him.
Kiki’s good moves included trading Antonio McDyess to the Knicks for Marcus Camby and Nene. This trade worked out very well for the Nuggets as McDyess never had any consistent productive time for the Knicks. Incredibly all three of these players have been connected by a strange karma that causes them to spend long periods of time injured. This insidious karma seems to be stretching its slimy fingers towards MeGee (traded for Nene) as he struggles with exercise induced asthma in the thin Colorado air. Interestingly the player McGee is very similar to (and should emulate) is the Knicks current center Chandler.
NBA and Nugget aficionados enjoying the history? Good, because here is the point. Kiki arranged for his own demise because he didn’t move quick enough when a players value started to drop. Masai has shown the capability to move quickly as evidenced by the Nene trade. A fat new contract, a disinclination to play through injury and a chronic history of health issues made the Nene trade fairly easy for Masai. The issue is that Nene was not one of Masai’s guys. He was Kiki’s guy. New GM’s have a good sense for the talent level of the guys they inherit. They rarely have a good sense for talent of guys they draft, develop and sign until it’s too late.
Masai will make mistakes. The question is how fast will he recognize them and seek to hand that mistake over to another GM. The guys we have now are “Masai’s guys.” I am very curious to see how Masai handles things going forward.