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Should we be rooting for the Rams?...

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Now that the Broncos/Rams game is behind us, Nuggets fans should consider rooting for the Rams for the rest of the season. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Now that the Broncos/Rams game is behind us, Nuggets fans should consider rooting for the Rams for the rest of the season. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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They say a rising tide raises all boats, and there is no tide bigger in Stan Kroenke's sea of sports holdings than the NFL's St. Louis Rams.

Well, technically Kroenke's Arsenal Football Club is worth more (estimated in the $1.2 billion range) than the St. Louis Rams (estimated in the $930 million range), but Kroenke owns "only" 29.9% of Arsenal whereas he is now the owner of the Rams, just as he is the owner of the MLS Champion Colorado Rapids, the Colorado Mammoth lacrosse team, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and, yes, our Denver Nuggets of the NBA.  I like to say "our" because it's we as fans who essentially support the franchises that Kroenke - and other sports owners - possess.  But at the end of the day, these really are Stan's teams.

As noted by Mike Klis in the Denver Post, it was somewhat awkward watching Kroenke's Rams take on Pat Bowlen's Broncos (i.e. "our" Broncos) at Invesco Field - or is it Mile High Stadium, ah who cares anymore - yesterday.  As a Broncos fan first and foremost, I was rooting for our boys in dark blue and not enough orange to get another victory under their belt.  Instead, they succumbed to a Rams team that hadn't won a road game all season resulting in the Broncos' 16th loss in 21 tries.  And frankly, I can't think of a better team to lose to right now.

While yesterday's loss to the Rams merely extended an already awful season for the Broncos, it may have been good news for Nuggets fans.  By beating the Broncos, the Rams improved to 5-6 and now sit tied atop the NFC West with the 5-6 Seattle Seahawks.  5-6 is no great accomplishment, to be sure, but first place is first place (the Broncos would kill to be 5-6 right now where they'd be just two games back of AFC West leader Kansas City) and puts the Rams in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.  More impressively, the Rams' five wins are one shy of their collective win total from 2007 through 2009, the Rams of the late 2000s being similar to the Nuggets of the late 1990s in the standings.

So what exactly does this newfound Rams success mean for the Nuggets?  In a nut shell, it means that Kroenke - who allegedly loses millions of dollars annually on the Nuggets and Avalanche combined - could be in for some previously unforeseen sports-related revenue thanks to a possible playoff appearance in addition to the increased ticket sales sure to come from the fans in St. Louis re-embracing the Rams.  Lest we forget that this Rams franchise had been barely avoiding TV blackouts throughout the first month of the 2010 season due to a lack of ticket sales and enthusiasm.  And that increased revenue might - just might - make Kroenke a spendthrift again when it comes to his true love: basketball.

Nuggets fans and columnists alike have accused Kroenke lately of not spending money to build a winner in Denver.  But the facts don't bear that out.  

After the 2003-04 season, it was Kroenke who pressured then-GM Kiki Vandeweghe to bring in a big name free agent, leading Vandeweghe to foolishly overpay for Kenyon Martin.  In 2005, it was Kroenke who advocated for the hiring of a big name (i.e. big money) coach to salvage the Nuggets season and thus George Karl was brought in at about $3 million per season.  In 2007-08, the Nuggets famously had an $83 million payroll - the NBA's third highest at the time - thanks to a roster filled with big money guys like Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Marcus Camby, K-Mart and Nene...and that didn't include Karl's salary.  

As we all know, Kroenke's four-year spending binge on the Nuggets was rewarded in 2008 with a team that almost missed the playoffs entirely, and after squeaking into the postseason were embarrassed by the Lakers in a four-game sweep.  After the sweep, Kroenke ordered austerity measures that led to some shrewd cost-cutting by Nuggets management while miraculously making the team better on the court for two consecutive seasons.  And then this past summer, Kroenke again opened his wallet to sign free agent Al Harrington.  With Harrington on board combined with the payroll increases due to Melo, Chauncey, K-Mart, Nene, Chris Andersen and J.R. Smith, the Nuggets again find themselves with an $83 million payroll...fifth highest in the NBA.

But before you say "so much for those austerity measures", all one has to do is look to the Nuggets projected 2011-12 payroll to see that austerity is right around the corner.  Entering next season (if there is a next season), the Nuggets' payroll is projected to be cut in half and that's with Chauncey being paid $14.2 million and Melo receiving $18.5 million, both of which are unlikely to happen as Chauncey has a team option buyout clause and Melo will probably be traded.  Simply put, the Nuggets could be looking at having one of the NBA's lowest payrolls entering next season.

Moving into the future, with or without Melo, I expect Kroenke and his son, Josh (who is taking over the reigns of the team), to be more fiscally prudent.  And hopefully they'll be able to do so within the parameters of a new collective bargaining agreement that does away with K-Mart-type guaranteed contracts for good.  

But regardless of how the new CBA shakes out, the Nuggets will still have to overpay for free agents to come to Denver - Udonis Haslem taking less money to stay in Miami this past summer was yet another reminder of that - and will have to maintain a high payroll to remain competitive with the likes of the Lakers, Mavericks and Rockets.  It's the teams that spend greatly but spend smartly who ultimately win in all professional sports.  And it makes it a hell of a lot easier to spend greatly for those coveted free agents and first round drafted rookies when the parent sports empire is successful...a success could become dependent on how the Rams play.

So other than when they play the Broncos - which thankfully won't happen for another four years - Nuggets fans everywhere should be rooting for the Rams.  After all, a resurgence of basketball in Denver might just be tied to a resurgence of football 850 miles east.