Q&A: Masai Ujiri

Nuggets VP of basketball ops discusses Karl's contract extension

It’s been a monumental two weeks for Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri and team president Josh Kroenke.

Fourteen days after finalizing one of the biggest trades in franchise history, the Nuggets signed future Hall of Fame coach George Karl to a multiyear contract extension Tuesday.

Finally given some time to exhale, Ujiri sat down for a quick interview with about keeping Karl in Denver beyond the 2010-11 season.

Q: What was the atmosphere like when George signed his contract and made it official?
A: You could tell there was a sign of happiness and relief. He’s gone through a tough year. George has been excellent. Look where we are with the type of year we’ve had with all the circumstances. I could tell he’s relieved and happy. He gave me a big hug and told me to tell the Kroenkes thank you. I’m sure he’ll be calling them.

Q: What about for you? How excited were you to get this done?
A: It’s unbelievable. My relationship with George, we go a long way back. He’s special to me and he’s a special guy. He’s a Hall of Fame coach. He’s a winning coach and he brings winning to our organization and he brings fun to basketball. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.

Q: When did you know you wanted to sign George to an extension?
A: Josh and I talked about it from Day 1. It was a goal of ours. There’s never been any question. Josh has been really good with this. I kept him up to speed with everything. We’ve known all along. We were just going through so many things that we kind of had to do it in different stages. We knew George’s stage would come. It’s not that it wasn’t a priority, but we were trying to set up our future.

Q: What do you admire most about George’s coaching and his general philosophy on life?
A: He’s a very honest guy. He speaks his mind. He’s very passionate about the game. He’s a basketball junkie. I remember my first years with him, I’d come into the gym with my phone and he would look at me and say, ‘What the hell are you doing with a phone in the gym? This is like a church.’ He’s a special person. Obviously he’s a great coach. He’s battled so much in his life, and then I had to put him through extra this year again.

Q: Has George been a mentor to you as you’ve gained experience in the NBA?
A: He’s definitely been a mentor. He always has a story to tell and he always has a scenario that matches with what we’re going through. He’s been a great sounding board for me. I don’t listen to him all the time, but most of the time. He’s always got a saying or he always has a book for me to read. He’s great. Now, I just have to get him to Africa (for the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program).

Q: How much did you confide in George as you were working to protect the long-term interests of the franchise this season?
A: He was a huge part of the process, because at the end of the day, he was going to coach the team. It’s his team and he’s going to deal with the players. Our relationship, we don’t always agree. He screams at me and I scream him, but it’s great. It’s all passion and it’s all in the name of winning.

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press. Follow him on twitter @Lopez_Nuggets. Aaron's full bio...