Front office change nothing new for Nuggets

Denver has enjoyed sustained success under several different executives
by Aaron Lopez

The Denver Nuggets have been down this road before.

From 2001 to 2010, there were three leadership changes in the front office, each one raising questions about the direction of the franchise.

The Nuggets proved to be successful each time.

In 2001, Kiki Vandeweghe began a rebuilding process that helped take Denver from the NBA draft lottery to the first of 10 consecutive playoff appearances in 2004.

In 2006, Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman took over for Vandeweghe and made aggressive moves that helped the Nuggets reach the 2009 Western Conference finals.

In 2010, Masai Ujiri was named executive vice president of basketball operations and helped facilitate a roster overhaul built around five major trades and the selection of Kenneth Faried in the 2011 NBA Draft.

In 2012-13, the Nuggets won a team-record 57 games, including a league-best 38 at home – also a team record.

With Ujiri leaving to accept a job with the Toronto Raptors, change is coming once again, but it might not be as significant as people might expect.

Since being hired by Kroenke, Ujiri worked closely with Kroenke and Vice President of Basketball Operations Pete D’Alessandro in the trades that brought Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee, and Andre Miller to Denver over the past two years.

“I wish that we would be setting up another press conference and there would be another award for Josh Kroenke because that guy is the real executive of the year, in my opinion,” Ujiri said when he accepted his NBA Executive of the Year award earlier this month. “He’s a leader and he’s a great person and given all of us here a great opportunity.”

Kroenke has remained a constant in the Nuggets front office since the 2007-08 season, with the team winning 50 games in every full season since his arrival. Along the way the Nuggets have won two executive of the year awards for their front office performance after having won the award only once previously in the organization’s history.

Kroenke has, and will remain, the “final say” on all decisions in the front office along with D’Alessandro. D’Alessandro has been an assistant general manager for the Golden State Warriors and has been instrumental for the Nuggets across the board.

“I don’t like saying too much about Pete because some team will figure it out and they’ll steal him from me,” Ujiri said. “He’s unbelievable.”

While Kroenke had an agreement with Ujiri on a lucrative contract extension, the opportunity to return to his previous team in an elevated role proved too much for Ujiri to turn down, and one that Kroenke certainly would not stand in the way of if Ujiri wished to pursue it.

“Masai and I have a unique relationship that has developed since we first met during his tenure here as a scout,” Kroenke said. “Back in in 2005, we sat in the draft room and laughed, talked about players, basketball strategy, and life. Our friendship has only grown since then and it has been a true pleasure having him in Denver these past 2½ years. I wish him nothing but the best of luck in his new role with the Raptors.”

Their decision might cause consternation among Nuggets fans, but it really shouldn’t.

Be honest. Where should a team dedicate its resources: On the court or in the front office?

Whether it was committing more than $140 million to free agents Andre Miller and Kenyon Martin in 2003 and 2004 or paying the luxury tax to add All-Star point guard Allen Iverson in 2006, Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke has shown a willingness to spend money to improve the roster.

Ujiri’s replacement will inherit a roster that features talented young players such as Chandler, Faried, Gallinari, McGee and point guard Ty Lawson. Denver holds options on Faried through 2015, while the other four are under contract through 2016.

In short, the Nuggets remain in a good place, with an active playoff streak that is second only to the San Antonio Spurs.

They have traveled this road before – and navigated the curve without taking their foot off the gas.