Less than 24 hours after a disheartening finish to an otherwise remarkable season, Nuggets president Josh Kroenke sat on a wooden stool in the middle of the locker room and expressed how proud he was of his players for what they had accomplished.
Despite being the third-youngest team in the NBA, he reminded them that they won 57 games, something no Nuggets team had done since joining the league in 1976. He also pledged his support and the organization’s support to take more steps toward an NBA title.
Kroenke, in his third season working closing with Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri, is by no means satisfied with the final results of 2012-13.
In an interview with the Denver Post and Nuggets.com, Kroenke discussed his thoughts on Denver’s season, the disappointing first-round playoff exit, the future of coach George Karl and other topics.
Q: How do you evaluate the success of the regular season against the results of the postseason?
“I think 57 wins for a really young team that we have is a heck of an accomplishment. However, collectively, I think we’re all after something bigger. You could see that on the guys’ faces (after being eliminated from the playoffs). You could see that in their comments to me this morning.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done. I don’t think anybody’s satisfied with a great regular season and being bounced in the first round. That goes for myself, Masai, George, all of our players. Everybody’s hungry for more. As the leader of our organization, I have to reflect on everything and reflect on everyone. It’s going to be doing that across the board with Nuggets and Avs.
“We’re an exciting young team. we’ve got a long way to go, but I did see some growth. There were some positives, but the results speak for themselves. We did lose in the first round again. We had a tough break coming in with some injuries with (Danilo) Gallinari and Kenneth (Faried). We’re still positioned very well going forward and I believe in the guys in that locker room. It’s on us. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out how we’re going to go about getting to where we want to be.”
Q: What can you say about the growth and improvement of point guard Ty Lawson?
“I might be the only (front office) guy left that was here when we drafted him (in 2009). He was our target in that draft. Ty’s come a long way. Ty has numerous qualities that can take him to be an All-Star level player. He’s figuring out how to use those tools to his advantage at this point in time. He’s realized that he’s a weapon in that high screen and roll, much like the elite point guards in the league. He’s added a mid-range jump shot to his game, which helps keep the defense honest. He’s athletic enough to finish around the rim and he can knock down the 3. Ty’s future is very bright. He’s a worker. He’s a great kid and we’re happy to have him as our starting point guard.”
Q: Andre Iguodala can opt out of his contract and become a free agent this summer. Where does he fall on your priority list?
“A.I., he was a big part of everything we did this year. He. is a unique player. He fits our system very well. He’s wonderful in our locker room. As far as his contractual situation, he has a player option for next year. He’s going to make a decision there and we’re going to be making our decisions as well. I can’t say too much about it because I don’t know exactly how it will unfold. Dre was a big part of who we were this year and we hope to have him as part of what we’re doing going forward.”
Q: Coach George Karl shouldered a lot of the responsibility for the first-round playoff loss. Will he be the coach next season?
“George is under contract for next year. At this point in time, we haven’t really given any thought to making any change whatsoever. As we do at the end of every season, we’ll have internal meetings and George will obviously be a major part of them. We won 57 games and in my mind, he should hands down be the NBA Coach of the Year. We’ll all put our heads together and try to figure out what happened (in the playoffs) and why it happened. We were without our second-leading scorer, and some benefit of the doubt should be given to a coach with well over 1,000 wins without one of his leading scorers in the playoffs.”
Q: How do you respond to fans who point to the playoff results rather than the long-term success of the past decade?
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve turned our roster over completely. For anybody to say this is the same old Nuggets getting bounced in the first round they’re not paying too close attention. Our fans have been unbelievable through the changes that we’ve made and the young players that we’ve brought in. I hope our fans continue to embrace us because we’re only going to continue to go up.
“With the Avalanche and the Nuggets and across all Kroenke Sports entities, our goal is to win championships. We’re not hiding from that. We’re not satisfied with making the playoffs. As long as our teams are showing growth towards that, we’re excited about them. But our goal is to win championships. We’ve shown that we can do that across other sports. We won the Super Bowl (St. Louis Rams), we won the Stanley Cup, we won the MLS Cup. That’s what we want to do. If anybody thinks otherwise, that’s their prerogative.”
Q: Finally, Masai Ujiri’s contract is up this summer. What can you tell us about keeping him in Denver?
“Masai and I, we pretty much figured that out between each other. We have a relationship where we openly discuss (everything). Last summer, Philadelphia made a run at him. I said, ‘Hey, buddy, if you want to be here, let’s talk about it when the time is right.’ That was really about it. For the fans, they should know Masai wants to be here and I think he enjoys working for me. I think we make a pretty good team, along with (vice president of basketball operations) Pete D’Alessandro, (scouting coordinator) Dan Tolzman and the rest of our scouting staff. I wouldn’t anticipate any issues there.”