Newly named VP of basketball ops set to meet with Melo
Ujiri, Kroenke remain hopeful of keeping superstar in Denver
With a dynamic young front-office structure in place, the Nuggets are now turning their attention to their dynamic young franchise player.
Newly named executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said Tuesday that he plans to meet with three-time All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony in the next few days in hopes of convincing him that Denver is the best place for him to continue his NBA career.
“I think I'm going to convince him to be a Nugget,” Ujiri said with a smile during his introductory press conference at the Pepsi Center. “No, I don't know. I can't make a judgment on that. It's a process and until he tells me that (he doesn’t want to be in Denver), I think we want him back, the city wants him back, ownership wants him back.
"I think they've done a great job here. He's been here seven years – and seven years in the playoffs. What he's brought to the city I think is positive, and we'll continue to build on that.”
Indeed, the Nuggets have not missed the playoffs since Anthony’s arrival in 2003. Only two other NBA teams – San Antonio and Dallas – can make the same claim. Since Josh Kroenke joined the front office in 2007, Denver has enjoyed the most successful three-year stretch in team history, with three consecutive 50-win seasons.
Kroenke, now president of the Nuggets, met with Anthony two weeks ago and remains hopeful that the two sides can work out an agreement. Anthony is under contract for the 2010-11 season and is weighing a three-year extension that would keep him in Denver through 2014-15.
“I haven't had a negative conversation with Carmelo Anthony since I've known him, and that's been since the time I was a college basketball player” Kroenke said. “Melo and I always have extremely cordial talks, whether it's positive or negative. I don't have a bad word to say about Melo as a person. I think he knows that he can come to me as an individual, and we have that amount of respect to where we can talk about things openly in a non-combative way. So anything that has been stated from sources behind sources, all of our talks have been cordial."
Asked about Anthony’s agents, Kroenke refuted media reports suggesting they have been heavy-handed in dealing with the Nuggets.
“They've been perfect gentlemen, as well. They've been great,” he said. “Anything that's been said has been either someone trying to manipulate the situation behind the scenes or other motives that are unknown at this point. But Melo and his representatives have been great to us.”
Kroenke, 30, and Ujiri, 39, have plenty of work to do before training camp opens in four weeks, but they are ready for the challenge. Both spent the past three years – Kroenke in Denver and Ujiri in Toronto – preparing for their current responsibilities.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity for me. I'm so happy to be back with the Nuggets,” said Ujiri, who was a Nuggets scout from 2003-07. “I always feel like maybe I went out on loan somewhere and I came back again. I'm excited.
“I think there are a lot of challenges in this job, but what job doesn't have challenges? I think it's a great job. One thing that really intrigued me about taking this job is (the) three years Josh has been with this team now and there's nothing but upside. There's a new passion, a new movement here. I'm really excited to be here. I think it's going to be great.”
Nuggets coach George Karl attended Tuesday’s press conference, and smiled each time Ujiri turned and referred to him as “our famous coach” or “my guy.”
“I think Masai has a personality that fits the problems that we have,” Karl said afterward. “That’s what I believe. The choice of Masai … he’s such a positive dude.”
Karl, a two-time cancer survivor, thrives on positive energy. Some of Denver’s energy and swagger in 2010 were sapped by late-season injuries and Karl’s absence while recovering from throat and neck cancer. Instead of reprising their run to the 2009 Western Conference finals, the Nuggets lost to Utah in the first-round of the playoffs.
“It’s going to be an interesting year,” Karl said. “I think my strength is (all) about basketball, and we’re a good team. We can be a better team than we were last year. It can be fun. It wasn’t fun last year. We had too many nightmares. I’m hoping to rebuild the year before when there was a positive juice in this building on the court and off the court.”
Like Kroenke and Ujiri, Karl is hoping Anthony remains a part of the progression.
“I think Melo and I have a very good relationship. It’s gotten better over the years,” Karl said. “I’d probably tell him, ‘I’ve been to a lot of cities and I’ve been with a lot of teams and Denver is a great place to play basketball. I don’t know why you want to go play someplace else.’
“But the two places I would want to play basketball from my experience is San Antonio and Denver. They’re two great cities. They’re winning traditions. We haven’t built a championship tradition but we’ve built a winning tradition. I would just tell him, I don’t know if you’re going to find a better city to live in than Denver.”
Contact Aaron J. Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org