I like Josh Kroenke personally. My interactions with him have been quite pleasant and I have nothing but good things to say about him. I'm not going to bash him personally for circumstances that are beyond his control. No one would have thought that the Toronto Raptors would back a dump truck full of money up to former Vice President of Basketball Operations door and basically give him the keys to the Raptors kingdom. Tim Leiweke (former Nuggets executive from 1991-95) usually get's what he wants, and the President of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (who run the Raptors) got just that.
Dan Issel (inherited), Kiki Vandeweghe, Mark Warkentein, Rex Chapman, Bret Bearup and Masai Ujiri have all taken turns at running the Nuggets executive office to varying degrees of success since Stan Kroenke bought the Nuggets in July of 2000. That's four major executive changes in 13 seasons and that is an insanely high rate for a "successful" franchise. Consider, RC Buford, general manager of the San Antonio Spurs, has been with the franchise since 1994, served as team president for five seasons until being named general manager in 2002. Additionally since the Kiki Vandeweghe administration the Nuggets executives are one of the lowest paid executives in the NBA. I don't know the higher ups well enough at KSE to read their minds, but that sure seems like they don't value front office executives like other teams do.
We can all understand the value of using young, up-and-coming, hungry scouts and various other potential basketball operations people to greater understand and shift with the changing times and analytics that the NBA brings. However, there will always come a time when you have to pony-up the dough and pay them. That's the way the market works. Are the Nuggets content to be a stepping stone for bright young talented executives? Only to have them leave the organization because they won't get paid market value here? That kind of impermanence leads to eventual chaos.
I have zero doubt that Josh Kroenke wanted to keep Masai Ujiri in-house with the Nuggets. However, the time to keep Ujiri was a year ago when the Philadelphia 76ers asked if they could interview him. At that time, maybe, the asking price would have been far more reasonable. It seems that it is the policy of KSE to not actively negotiate extensions with their executives prior to the expiration of their contracts. As discussed previously, a "handshake" deal is not a deal. It's a handshake. There would be no attempt to inflate market value on Masai Ujiri (and I do agree that the reported $3 million plus all the other ancillary benefits may have been too much) if the Nuggets had just done what Masai did with Danilo Gallinari, and Kosta Koufos. Locked up at a fair, Denver-friendly, deal before their contracts expired.
The question of "why" this wasn't done will be one of the great mysteries in Denver Nuggets history. The team is now left with far more uncertainty than they have faced since the Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011. While Ujiri was able to pull of an elegantly lugubrious press conference after the trade (the infamous "We got killed" moment) it was clear that Ujiri pulled off something of a miracle as the Nuggets team that played out the 2011 season was better than the one that played up until the trade deadline.
The challenge that faces Josh Kroenke is to back up his publicly stated confidence in himself with action that restores the blighted faith Nuggets fans now have with Ujiri's departure. There's no worse feeling for a sports fan than believing that your sports ownership doesn't care about winning. With the past complaints of Colorado Avalanche fans and Arsenal English Soccer Club reaching a deafening crescendo ... the Kroenke family managed to avoid the same kind of ill-will from Nuggets fans. My hope is that losing the newly crowned executive of the year is merely a blip on the radar.
With the future of Andre Iguodala up in the air (will he opt out of the final year of his contract and can he be re-signed?), as well as Danilo Gallinari missing most of next season ... big decisions await this franchise. Josh Kroenke needs to make a big statement in the coming months to let Nuggets fans know that he is indeed in it to win it. He can start by committing to a GM and sticking with them for a period longer than three seasons. Enough of the "Well, it was a collaboration blah blah blah" line we get fed every time a GM leaves this organization. KSE seems to have commitment issues. Time to change that.
Much of the reporting from Denver stresses Josh Kroenke, and trusting in his abilities. The Nuggets are now entering a very uncertain time. If Josh truly is all about winning, now is the time to prove it. Otherwise we may be in for a very long year.
Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78