With the departure of Mike Bratz and Dan Tolzman leaving Herb Livsey as the sole remaining Nuggets scout, Josh Kroenke has purged almost the entire front office involved with the evaluation of player personnel. As Nate Timmons mentioned, this is probably due in large part to Kroenke wanting to give Tim Connelly some space to bring in his own handpicked team.
To me, though, these final (?) departures speak to something more. If it wasn't abundantly clear before, it is now: this is the true beginning of the era of "Josh Kroenke's Nuggets".
Josh may or may not have been highly involved in the coordination of trades and draft picks during Masai Ujiri's tenure. Kroenke's statements during his recent press conference certainly seem to suggest that he was, though to what extent we'll likely never know. Now, however, Josh's fingerprints are all over this new era of Nuggets basketball that we are about to embark on. As much as I would like to believe that Connelly will be operating in an autonomous capacity as the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, all evidence to this point seems to suggest that any future decision involving front office hires, draft picks or trades will need to clear Josh's desk first.
Whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen.
On the one hand, if you believe that Josh was heavily involved in basketball operations throughout Ujiri's time in Denver, we've got a mostly good track record to go off - making a good selection in Ujiri to replace the outgoing Bret Bearup, Mark Warkentien, and Rex Chapman trio, maximizing the value received from the Carmelo Anthony trade, drafting Kenneth Faried, Evan Fournier, Jordan Hamilton and Quincy Miller, acquiring Andre Iguodala in exchange for an overpaid (by their own hand) Arron Afflalo and broken-down Al Harrington, and sending Nene off into the sunset for the frustrating but potential-filled JaVale McGee.
Sure, there have been a few questionable decisions like the size of the contract given to McGee and the three-year extension granted to Andre Miller last year, but in large part the Nuggets of the last few seasons seem to have made the right moves to get young while simultaneously preserving a very competitive team. If Josh can continue his run of decent draft day picks (with the 2013 NBA Draft just one week away) and trades for assets with upside, you have to think that this team has a bright future ahead of it.
On the other hand, if you believe that this was mostly Masai and Pete D'Alessandro's show of the past few seasons, the fact that Josh's former business experience includes a six-month NBA internship and a short period serving as an underwriter for Lehman Brothers ... you probably are girding your loins for the repeated kicks to the genitals that this organization will take in the form of short-term competitiveness and long-term playoff success. Frankly, there isn't much precedent that one could cite where an owner has become directly involved in the operational side of a sports organization and helped lead that franchise to success; certainly none that I can speak to off the top of my head.
While Connelly appears to have the hallmarks of a talented "up and coming" front office hire, he is still an executive neophyte - as Ujiri was - and the Nuggets will need lightning to strike twice, in the sense of a bringing on a competent GM who won't torpedo the team with stupid trades and bad draft picks (or, in this scenario, being the yes man for Josh to do same).
The NBA is filled with examples of boneheaded front offices overpaying players, making poor draft selections and mortgaging their futures for cash. It's why organizations with stable and talented front offices like the San Antonio Spurs, with Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford running the show, have been competitive for the last 20 years, while teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, Phoenix Suns and yes, the Denver Nuggets have been consistently mired in mediocrity. Connelly, while not being directly responsible for the selections, was still involved in the processes that brought the NBA Kwame Brown, Lazar Hayward, Jared Jeffries, and Austin Rivers... to name a few. That's not exactly a sterling collection of names, there.
Ultimately, where we go from here rests almost entirely on the decisions that co-GM Josh Kroenke - bluntly, you are kidding yourself if you think that Josh's role is anything less than this - and Connelly make in the next few seasons. With Josh's guiding hand, can the Nuggets continue to find steals in the draft, and perhaps bring on board a rising star to take them to the next level? Or are the Nuggets going the way of the Minnesota Timberwolves, consigned to NBA Siberia for the foreseeable future?
Personally, I'm breaking out my athletic protector in the near term, I've got a bottle of vodka waiting for me in the medium term, and I'm tentatively planning on watching the Nuggets well into late May in the long term.