Josh Kroenke Press Conference Transcript

Nuggets president talks about recent changes and future going forward
by Aaron Lopez
Nuggets.com

On May 31, Nuggets president Josh Kroenke learned that executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri was leaving for a job with the Toronto Raptors. On Thursday, he announced that coach George Karl would not return for the final year of his contract in 2013-14.

In the wake of the changes, Kroenke addressed the media Friday at Pepsi Center. Here are is a transcript of his press conference:

Opening statement
"Over the last week, there have been some significant changes to the Denver Nuggets, both in the front office and in the coaching announcement that came Thursday. My main message is no matter who’s in the front office or on the coaching staff or on the court, our mission is the same and that’s to bring an NBA championship to Denver. Obviously a couple tough decisions with both Masai and with George. I’m only interested in one thing and that’s the future. The only way to get there is together. I’m incredibly excited about the opportunities that are ahead of me and the organization as a whole.

Can you describe how difficult the past seven days have been for you?
"It’s been a rough month in general. Both situations were incredibly difficult in their own rights. Masai, he’s a great friend, someone I’ll always hold close to my heart the rest of my life. It was a very tough decision for him, but I think he made it clear in his press conference the other day when he said, ‘I’m home’ that it was a decision he wanted to make going back there.

Several years ago after I hired Masai, we were in Toronto for George’s 1,000th win. Masai took me around the city. It was a lot of fun and I could see that he had a lot of friends around the city and I could see that if the job became available someday, he would have some interest. It’s going to be a good situation for him going forward. I’m incredibly proud of him and what we accomplished here together. I think the opportunity in Toronto is a good one for him."

What was your conversation with George like when you told he would not be back next season?
"I made a statement at the end of the season that George was under contract for another year. There were going to be some internal meetings like we do every year and George was going to be a major part of those. We talked about our future. We talked about our different desires for the organization. George was entering the final year of his contract. We had an option for three more years after that. We both sat down and tried to figure out the best ways for us both moving forward.

"My worst-case scenario that I kept coming back to was that we’re going to start next season without Danilo Gallinari. For me it would be a tough situation to put George in knowing that he might want to restructure his contract already. If he’s on the final year of his contact and we start off slow, that would be an impossible situation to put a coach of that stature in. I have the utmost respect for George Karl as a coach and as a person. I did not want to put him in that situation.

"While it was a tough decision, I felt it was the right one to make at this point in time for us all to get a fresh start moving forward. I think George might want to coach for a few more years and there’s a lot of wonderful opportunities that are out there."

If you had matched the offer from Toronto, do you think Masai would still be here?
"No. Masai and I are very close friends and colleagues here at the nuggets. I’ve known Masai for a number of years dating to his time here as a scout. Masai, he and I had an agreement. The (prior) agreement that we came to was the number that he asked for. I said yes. So he and I had an agreement moving forward. We were very comfortable and focused on our jobs to make the team better.

"When Toronto came calling, that was the one opportunity that I knew he might leave us for. That resulted in Masai and I having a conversation. I said, 'Look Masai, I don’t know what the exact situation is up there, but they did call and ask permission. I’m not sure of the offer that’s going to be awaiting you if you’re their No. 1 choice, but you and I have an agreement and this is the only team I will let you out of our agreement to go discuss. If anybody else called, you and I are on the same page that we were doing this together going forward, but I’m well aware of the relationships involved here and in Toronto.'

"It wasn’t a black-and-white situation, which I think a lot of people try to make it around the contract and the money. I don’t think it was a situation regarding money at all. I know people say that all the time because of the dollars that are thrown around in this league, but there are a lot of close relationships involved as well. I think Masai really enjoyed working with me. It was a tough decision for him, but I think to be named the head of basketball for the team that gave him the first real shot in the front office was a tremendous opportunity for him and I wish him the best."

If Masai were still here, do you think George would still be here, too?
"Masai and I had a few conversations about that, but Masai left last week. George and I met on Sunday and then I thought about everything over the last several days, ultimately coming to the decision and talking to George Thursday morning. Masai wasn’t here when the decision was made. This was my decision. It was a very, very tough one to make. I don’t know what Masai would’ve told me to do had he been here, but I’m sure that whatever I decided, Masai would’ve supported."

Fans understood when you made changes to the Colorado Avalanche was struggling on the ice. They look at the Nuggets success and wonder why you would fix something that wasn’t broken. How do you respond to that?
"I don’t think I ever said that it was broken and I don’t think these changes are me thinking that it was broken. I’m incredibly proud of the season that we had. I’m incredibly proud of our players, our front office and our coaches as well. These changes aren’t reflective of last season. I’m only focused on the future. I understand there could be some unease out there based on the awards that were recently won. It was a very successful regular season, 57 wins, coach of the year, executive of the year. But at the end of the day, I’m not here to win awards. I’m here to win banners. For me, I’m focused on the future.

"I’ve been here for the last six years and I’ve played a major part in everything that we’ve done over the last six years. One of my original goals when I moved here was to be a part of a front office with the Nuggets, I thought it would be cool to win the executive of the year award because that’s chosen by your peers. Those moves that result in you winning those awards, they don’t mean anything on win-loss margin, but they at least show you have the respect of your peers; you’re making decisions both basketball-wise and best for the franchise long-term. Since I’ve been here, we’ve won that award twice. I’m proud of that, but I want more.

"Masai’s move to Toronto was in no way related to George’s decision and vice versa. It’s unfortunate that we had such a regular season that we did and these decisions are happening now. But Nuggets fans should be accustomed to the bar that we’ve set. Us and San Antonio are the only teams that have made the playoffs the last 10 years. I’m incredibly proud of the record of attracting high-quality free agents over the last 10 years. We’re getting quality players late in the draft. You don’t get lottery picks when you consistently make the playoffs. That’s a credit to my staff, that’s a credit to our coaches and that’s a credit to our players and a credit to our organization as a whole."

How much did the first-round loss to the Warriors impact your decision regarding George?
"It was a tough spring. We all had a bad taste in our mouths after that series, but that conversation never happened between George or I. We never talked strategy. It was basically the general situation moving forward and the long-term future of the organization."

With respect to the future, do you expect to name a general manger who has total control or do you expect to have part of that?
"I think we we’ll continue with what we’ve done here all along. It’s always a group decision. At the end of the day, it was never Masai’s decision (alone); it was always mine. He would bring me recommendations, I would bring him recommendations and we would debate about it and ultimately decide on something together and move forward.
"From my experiences growing up with my father, I’ve been around pro sports my entire life. In the car, I listened to my dad on the phone and could pick things up on how things are executed at the professional sports level when I was in my teens. Playing major college basketball (at Missouri) I think was a wonderful experience. I sat on the bench for a number of years. I played sporadically, but I never stopped thinking about the game. Then afterwards, I interned with the (NBA) league office for a year. I know sports on a lot of different levels. I’ve been here for the last six years and I have no intention of taking my foot off the gas with anything I’m doing going forward."

Can you talk about your vice president of basketball operations Pete D’Alessandro? How deep are his roots in talent evaluation and scouting?
Pete is wonderful. I can’t say anything bad about Pete. Regarding your comment about scouting or talent evaluation, I think Pete’s wonderful at anything. I think Masai made that clear in his statement when he accepted executive of the year. I don’t think anything that we’ve done over the last three years gets done without Pete. He’s been a vital cog to our organization. He knows the game very well. He’s been around it for an number of years. He’s got great basketball contacts. The hard part about talent evaluation is the gathering of information. I know Pete is very good at that.

Is your priority to hire GM or coach first?
"Now I can honestly take a step back and make an assessment about our organization moving forward with both positions. Filling one sooner than the other, I don’t have a direct plan tied to that. Both situations are fluid. There are people coming out of the woodwork for both jobs, which tells me that people think pretty highly of our organization, so I’m not panicked about making a decision right now because there’s some really good candidates that are out there, as well as some that are calling behind the scenes. I’m going to take my time. There’s going to be an interview process for both and I think it’s going to be great for the organization moving forward.

With the recent upheaval, are you more likely to hire from within to ensure continuity or does it give you chance to form a new identity for the organization?
"I think that I’m going to be able to assess that right now, finally. Both our front office and our coaching position are open and I can decide the direction that I want to take it. We have wonderful people here. Part of being a good organization is people taking notice of your good people. George is a wonderful coach. Masai is a wonderful executive. I think that any NBA team that doesn’t take a look at George Karl right now is foolish. He’s a great coach, he’s a great man. It was just a tough situation for me. I know George wanted to stay and coach our team, but for me it was tough to put him in a situation like that.

"I think 57 wins is something we can build on and I think people took notice a lot of our younger players. We have a really young roster in general. We have some talent at the top that’s very young and needs to be matured. We also have a couple of veteran players such as Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala that have been around the league before. For me to evaluate what’s best for the team going forward, I am going to look internally and externally as well. There are a lot of good names. I know a lot of great people across the league and there are very, very good people that are around the league.

"Had I listened to a lot of people in this room I don’t think I would have hired Masai three years ago. I know what I want, I know what I need and I think we’ll be fine moving forward.

"I have wonderful players under contract. I have wonderful support staff underneath me right now that are helping me through this transition. I have talked to several of our players over the last week to explain the situations to them. I think they all understand and I think they are excited about the future as well.

Going forward, will playing style be a factor and was it a factor in letting George go?
"We never talked basketball philosophy or any kind of style whenever George and I were having our conversations. Going forward, that is something I am going to assess and I’m going assess that with each candidate. I am going to ask questions about our roster, what our strength and weaknesses are. I know what our strengths and weaknesses are here in Denver, Colorado. I’m going to kind of shape a philosophy along with our coach because I’m not here to coach.

"Whoever I hire, I’m going to stay out of their hair, but they know what I want going forward and they are allowed to do what they want with what they see best. As far as basketball philosophy, we do have a built-in advantage here in the Mile High City. It is a wonderful city and the altitude is a factor. I think everyone that comes through town, whether you’re working out in your hotel or here at the Pepsi center playing basketball or hockey, you feel it. Throughout the regular season there is something to be said about that.

"During the playoffs, things do slow down and teams do get acclimated to the altitude because either they are staying in town or they are here for several days before a game. It’s not as big a factor in the postseason, but it is definitely something we need to think about because we are the one team here in the NBA that has a mile-high advantage. That is something you have to take into account going forward whether that is the postseason or the regular season.

How is your comfort level and your motivation to show people that you’re not just here because of your name?
"My comfort level has come a long way. I think that just comes with experience. I’m sure most people in this room can relate to that in some factor. As you do more and more, you get more and more comfortable. Since I arrived here in 2007, I have had wonderful people to absorb knowledge from. Whether that is Mark Warkentien, George Karl, Bret Bearup, Masai, Pete and then sitting around at league meetings at the league level ... I get to sit next to Mark Cuban because Denver and Dallas are right next to each other. I have been picking people’s brains for a long time now. I’m not afraid to ask questions about things that I don’t know. That serves me well right now because I’m trying to be a sponge and trying to learn as much as I can right now while doing it on the fly.

"I hope that Nuggets fans understand that I am here to win. That’s our goal at the end of the day. These changes are tough because of the regular season that we were coming off, but they should be excited. We have a dynamic young team and a team that I think can only get better and it’s going to be a lot of fun moving forward.

Have you leaned on anyone in particular about your situation?
"I have been leaning on my ceiling that I stare at every night when I try to go to bed. There are certain people that I try to ask for advice in certain situations. Sports are sports and situations are situations and they are all relative. We have a wonderful company here with several teams under our umbrella to where I can bounce ideas off of different people in different sports. It’s not fun making these decisions but you know it’s been a tough month. I fully saw it coming. I could see it out on the horizon and I’m didn’t know what exactly would unfold but I was fully prepared and aware of everything that could happen. I think we navigated the Avalanche situation successfully; I’m really excited to see what those guys are going to do. Now that I find myself in this situation with the Nuggets I am confident that we can bring some guys in that know what I want, know what the city expects moving forward and continue to build on what we have so far.

When making your decision about the coaching situation, was it a consideration to restructure George Karl's contract
"For someone of George’s stature I didn’t want to put him in a situation where I wasn’t sure about the direction I wanted to take the team long-term. For me to have to make a decision on that now, I needed to err on the side of caution more than the side of certainty. If I lock in for something for the next three years and then I realize next year that it is not the right fit then I made a terrible decision for my organization long-term and I have to figure out a way to correct that and I would be putting George in a tough situation as well. My evaluation of the situation with George was that it was best for parties for this to happen now. I didn’t think it would be fair for either party to jump into something we weren’t both 100 percent certain about, and I had to make a difficult decision like I did, which was to allow George to explore different opportunities and not bring him back for his final year."

What is Pete D’Alessandro’s status with organization considering there is talk that he could join another team
"Pete is a great guy and Pete is a wonderful, wonderful front office executive. When you hire good people, other people take notice of that. There have been teams that have taken notice, obviously with Masai and now Pete. Pete and I are going to have a conversation now that I can honestly assess the situation and we’re going to have a conversation about everything moving forward, the direction that I want to take this team, the direction that he sees himself in the organization. Pete is really excited about the opportunities that might be here as well.

When you sat down with George, did you discuss the topic of players' playing time?
"I’ve seen a lot of speculation, but the topic of players, players' playing time, system, all of that stuff never came up between George and I. I can sit here with an honest face and say that those conversations never took place between George and I. It was not a concern of mine in those meetings.

"We do have a young team. A lot of very, very talented players that I think can continue to get better and they want to get better. That is the most exciting thing for me out there, especially on the practice court. I see players holding each other accountable, all pushing each other and I see them all focused on one particular thing and that is an NBA championship.

"I think a new coach and a new style could be good or bad. I’m not here to hide from both scenarios, but for me, it was just a situation where I thought it would be better to take a step back now than take a giant leap forward. An honest assessment of the organization is only going to increase our chances of an NBA championship in the future.

You said you saw some of the changes coming. Do you think George saw it coming?
"Let me correct myself from earlier when I say I saw this coming. I knew that there were going to be a lot of changes with the Avalanche and there could be a possible situation with Masai. With some of my initial feedback, (I thought) I could possibly be walking into a situation with George where we might not see 100 percent eye-to-eye. When I saw everything start to go down in Toronto, I knew that when Tim Leiweke got hired that they would be looking to make a splash with their hire and obviously look at the executive of the year. Masai and I had an agreement, and there was one team that I was going to let him out of it with and that was Toronto.

"I can’t speak for George. I was in constant contact with his representation all throughout the process as well as talking to George a few times. I think he was fully aware of the situation and where I stood on the situation. I tried to be 100 percent professional in the situation because one thing I've learned is if you’re going to deliver news to someone who doesn’t want to hear it then there is no good way to go about it. You just have to be professional and be direct. I think George respected that part of the process. I know I have said it a thousand times while I’ve been sitting here, but it was a very difficult decision. I know George knows it was a difficult decision both for me saying it now and what I said to him yesterday."

Are you lowering expectations for this team next season?
“Not at all. Not by any means, but do I think that 57 wins is within our range? Of course. Do I think that we will get there? I'm not sure. I can sit here and I can plan for the next number of years, but the one thing you can’t plan is injuries. We are starting the year and we are going to be without one of our leading scorers for a significant portion of the year. I have a contractual situation this summer with Andre Iguodala. Andre and I know each other very well; I have had good conversations with him over the last week and I think Andre knows the direction that I want to take the team. I think that he is excited about it and that is going to be a big piece to our summer as well. For next year I am not lowering expectations at all. I am going to try to win every game that we can but also implementing a long-term vision on how to get to the ultimate goal of getting to the NBA Finals and winning an NBA championship."

Did the lack of playoff success contribute to your reluctance to make a long-term commitment to George Karl?
“I don’t think so. There are a lot of teams out there that would be sitting up here calling me crazy for letting a coach go after 10 years in the playoffs because everybody’s goal is to first make the playoffs and to have a good team. We have done that for 10 years straight, so for me I don’t think George’s playoff success or failures weighed in to my decision at all. I needed to take a step back and access where I wanted to take the team.

"I have known George for a number of years. If you think about it, nine years with an NBA team is a long time. I think there might only be one or two other coaches out there that have been with their teams this long in the NBA. I think that a fresh start for everybody was the best decision and it was a difficult one, like I keep saying. The playoff success or lack of, however you want to word it, didn’t play into my decision at all.

How important is it to get a new coach and executive before the June 27 draft?
"I don’t think that it is incredibly vital. We hold the 27th pick. I have an unbelievable amount of faith in Pete, (scouting coordinator) Dan (Tolzman) and our scouts (director of player personnel) Mike (Bratz) and Herb (Livsey). It is a wonderful staff, I have been involved in all the meetings over the last several years and I have the utmost confidence in everybody involved. They have played a major role in everything we have done in the past as well. Like I keep saying, it is always group decisions and it's fun to get everyone’s opinion before making those decisions. It is going to be the same way with the draft this year.

Why didn’t the Nuggets match Toronto's offer to Masai?
“Well, Masai told me not to. He said, 'Josh I’m not going to tell you to match. I think I have already made my decision. His press conference was very revealing because it showed his love for the city of Toronto. In his opening statement he said 'I am home' several times and that is a great thing for Masai to feel. I don’t think it was his intention to move on from Denver this quickly but Toronto was always a special place for him, as well as Denver is. We all know his career started here where he was a scout and then he moved to Toronto then came back to Denver and now he is going back to Toronto. I think it was a natural evolution, but as far as matching the offer, Masai told me not to. I said, 'Well, if that's your decision then we aren’t even going to have the conversation.'
"I wish him the best, and I know it is a tough thing for Nuggets fans to lose somebody like Masai, but I can assure all the fans that we are going to be fine. We are excited about the future and hopefully they trust me at this point because I was the guy that hired Masai. There was a lot of criticism that came my way initially in the Carmelo (Anthony) process for picking a novice like Masai, and I think he and I navigated that pretty well. Whatever decision I make with our coach and front office going forward it is going to be the best thing short- and long-term for the Nuggets.

What is the status of the assistant coaches?
"All of our assistants are under contract for next year. We have several players in town right now. The assistants haven’t missed a beat. They are up there right now working out guys. I'm going to meet with them in the coming days as well as reaching out to every player. We have guys traveling around the world, we have guys that are home in other countries ,so I am going to be reaching out to everyone around the organization in the coming days to make sure I can touch everybody and they understand where I am coming from with the decisions that have gone on (recently). I think that the people that I have talked to are excited to see what we're going to do and should be a fun situation moving forward.”

Is there any frustration about the length it has taken for Gallinari to have knee surgery?
"There are different opinions on everything medical nowadays. I think that you get as many opinions you need to have until you figure out what you need to do. The clinic up in Vail is world renown. They are wonderful and I have trust in them to get Gallinari back to where he was on his on time frame.

"I'm not going to rush him back into a situation where he isn’t ready or his body isn’t ready. I don’t think the fans want that either because we want him here for the long term, and in order to do that we need to preserve his body.

How confident are you that Gallinari will play next year?
"I am very confident. I had a great conversation with him yesterday. He told me all about his process up to this point. He is really excited about the future as well. He's ready to get the surgery behind him and start attacking his rehab and he's a basketball guy at heart. He wants to win. That has been very clear to me in the conversations that I've had since his arrival here two years ago and culminating in our conversation yesterday. He's a very driven guy, he's very proud of who he is and I think he wants to come back stronger than ever."

Will you talk to players for input about who should be the next coach?
"The guys that I got ahold of yesterday I said that I would be reaching back out. Whoever is in town I would love to take them out to lunch or dinner. At the end of the day it's going to be my decision, and they need to understand that. However, I'm going to hear their opinion on certain things because I think that's a smart thing to do.

"We are all going into this together so we all want to be comfortable. They also need to understand that it is going to be my decision. I'm going to listen to their opinion on certain things, but I am also going to have to make decisions on my own time. They are going to be consulted but not heavily."

What qualities are you looking for in a new head coach?
"There are several different traits that are out there, but I want somebody who is going to instill a passion to win. I think that George had a passion to win, and I think to help instill that with some of our younger players while developing them is great. With our current roster, I don’t think they know how to win yet and there is a process to winning and a process of getting to the ultimate goal of a championship. There's going to be a lot of bumps and bruises along the way. I think that the first-round loss this year was a lesson to several of our players on how to approach NBA playoff basketball because you cannot take possessions off."

Do you expect a significant amount of roster change?
"You know we have a group of guys who are all under contract for the next several years, and I don’t anticipate any changes with them. Every organization keeps their options open and that is not going to change here. As much as I love our team, if someone calls me and offers something outlandish, I have to say yes. I'm never going to lock myself into a position, but we do have a lot of players under contract and they are all great guys who are passionate about winning and want to work together to get there. I think that is a good foundation to have moving forward.

Do you think this roster can play with any style of coach?
"I think they can adapt. We have a very versatile roster and we have a lot guys who are hungry to get better. So whatever the new coach tells them I think they're all going to be all ears and go out there doing what he wants because I know they all want to keep playing."

Brian Shaw and Lionel Hollins already have been mentioned as possible candidates for the coaching job. Who else are you considering?
"I don’t want to go into any specifics on names or my strategy moving forward because I have to keep that pretty close to the chest on some level. There are a lot of great candidates out there that are very good names, some younger guys and some established guys and I am going to be looking at both scenarios. There are very good names with championship pedigree. Whether they want to run up and down or slow it down to the half court, I am going to look at everything and I am going to make a decision based on what I think is best for the organization moving forward.

Given your basketball background, how involved do you want to be with personnel moves?
"I have a lot more knowledge in basketball rather than hockey just based on my life experience and what I have done here over the past six years. I don’t think I am going to be going up to Joe Sakic and tell him that we need to improve our blue line. I think I have a pretty good opinion on how we can construct a basketball roster.

"I have been a basketball sponge my whole life and that was part of my criticism here during my early stages is that I was only a basketball person. I didn’t even watch the NBA Finals last night; I watched the Blackhawks-Kings game. I love sports in general, but I do think with my knowledge base it does hold court in the basketball side of things. As far as personnel decisions, I think I have a pretty good eye but I don’t think I am the savior by any means. I keep saying all the time that I think it is a group decision."