When the news broke Wednesday afternoon that a deal was imminent for Nuggets owner Stanley Kroenke to buy the St. Louis Rams - and thereby be required to jettison the Nuggets thanks to the NFL's stupid cross-ownership rules - the Nuggets "summer of distraction" just got a lot more worrisome.
And here I thought Carmelo Anthony's televised marriage to LaLa Vasquez would be the Nuggets biggest summer distraction.
Kroenke's full acquisition of the Rams (which, it should be noted, is not official yet) has been in the works and in the news for months. But ever since the rumors started circulating, it's been assumed - or, perhaps better worded, hoped - that Kroenke would figure out a way to finagle a deal with the NFL to circumvent their archaic cross-ownership provision. This could be done by having his son Josh or his wife Ann assume ownership of the Nuggets, the optimists thought.
Today's news pointed things in a surprisingly different direction, however. According to The Denver Business Journal's Daniel Kaplan, Kroenke will take over ownership of the Rams and will be given a "grace period" to sell the Nuggets and Avalanche, but not Pepsi Center or the Altitude Network (which, as pointed out by Denver Stiffs reader "Bob in Boulder" makes no sense to a future buyer).
My take? As a fan of a small market team, whenever I hear the word "sell" I automatically get concerned. Denver in particular is the smallest city in America to have teams in all four of the premier professional sports - NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL - which often results in the Nuggets and Avalanche trading off bleeding money for whomever owns them (lately it's been the Avalanche that are a greater financial drain on the collective sports enterprise, but in years past it was our Nuggets who couldn't put asses in the seats). Simply put, under the current economic structure of professional sports it's tough for a market of Denver's size to support two winter teams, but by no means is it impossible.
Regardless of what we're hearing today, it's too early to push the panic button. There are a number of scenarios still in play that could result in Kroenke transferring...errr, selling...ownership in the Nuggets and Avalanche to a family member. And if that scenario isn't viable, Denver remains an attractive enough sports market for a new owner to want to keep both franchises here (Denver multi-billionaire Phil Anschutz, anyone?). Not only is Denver a great sports city, but Pepsi Center is a relatively new facility, the Nuggets have had fairly good attendance recently and the Avalanche are on the upswing. Moreover, the collective bargaining system in the NBA is due to change in 2011, making NBA ownership - in theory - more favorable for the owners getting killed financially under the current structure.
All that said, I don't want to see Kroenke sell the Nuggets as he's been a good owner. I'm admittedly overly scarred by the disastrous era of Peter Bynoe, Bertram Lee, Robert Wussler and Comsat that preceded Kroenke's ownership, but by any reasonable and objective measure Kroenke's stewardship has been solid. Even with Kroenke's recent insistence on frugality, the Nuggets have been one of the more stable organizations since his arrival in 2000. The team has made seven straight playoff appearances, including three straight 50-win seasons, and almost made it to the NBA Finals in 2009. And while we may gripe about the Nuggets fold-like-deck-chairs 2010 playoff performance, this team will likely make an eighth straight playoff appearance in 2011, thus remaining relevant for the longest stretch in franchise history since the latter 1980s.
I had a few brief encounters with Kroenke after games this past season. I'm not sure he knows exactly who I am beyond being just another season ticket holder who occasionally says hello. But each time I've said hello to this titan of pro sports ownership he's been kind and gracious, just as he is with all the fans that approach him pre- and post-game. I wouldn't pretend to know Stan, but I can say for certain that he's a hoops junkie and wants the Nuggets to be a winning franchise on his watch.
I just hope Kroenke loves hoops enough - and Denver hoops in particular - to do whatever it takes to keep the Nuggets in the Mile High City. Stay tuned...