Dressed in Denver Nuggets workout gear, Josh Kroenke blends into the scene as a handful of players go through offseason drills on the Pepsi Center practice court.
Among the group are Andre Iguodala and fellow Denver newcomers Anthony Randolph and Evan Fournier.
Iguodala is an All-Star and newly minted Olympic gold medalist. Randolph is the fifth year forward still in search of the right fit for his enormous potential. Fournier is the first-round draft pick preparing for his rookie season.
Though at different stages of their NBA careers, the players represent part of the blueprint being drawn up by Kroenke in his role as Nuggets president and Masai Ujiri in his role as executive vice president of basketball operations.
Since Kroenke and Ujiri joined forces in the front office two years ago, the Nuggets have built a talented roster filled with young, athletic players who fit the uptempo style of coach George Karl.
The plan gained credibility last spring when Denver nearly upset the third-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. The Nuggets also were widely lauded for the offseason acquisition of Iguodala and the retention of center JaVale McGee and point guard Andre Miller.
“I think we’re pleased,” Kroenke said. “We’re always trying to keep moving forward. We feel like the moves we made this summer made us a better team, a stronger team than when we finished the season. We’re optimistic heading into this year.”
As the countdown to the start of training camp begins in earnest, Kroenke sat down with Nuggets.com to talk about the benefit of last year’s playoff series, the addition of Iguodala and the excitement of the upcoming season.
Q: Since Feb. 22, 2011, you’ve been part of four trades involving 31 players. Did you know that only Ty Lawson is the lone player remaining in Denver in that time?
A: That’s interesting. I never really thought about it. It’s never anything by design. Teams evolve and you have to be ready to make changes if something comes your way that you think makes you better. But that’s an interesting fact to point out. I had no idea.
Q: I bring that up because of the team’s success in the midst of change. Are you at all surprised that things have gone so well despite the turnover?
A: We went the young route. Everyone’s giving us praise, but we could’ve also looked pretty stupid if the young guys didn’t pan out. Fortunately for us, we handed the team over to some younger guys who are also serious players and serious professionals. Those guys have improved individually, which took our collective ceiling higher.
Q: You’ve also been praised for the efficiency of a streamlined front office comprised of you, Masai, assistant to the executive vice president of basketball operations Pete D’Alessandro, scouting director Mike Bratz, scout Herb Livsey and scouting coordinator Dan Tolzman. Why has the dynamic worked so well?
A: We’re all very honest with one another. There’s no grudges or agendas. People speak their mind. In this business, people don’t always share their honest opinions because they want to go along with the group. They care more about saying the right thing than they care about speaking their mind. We have people who speak their mind and also know what they’re talking about. It’s a good banter.
Q: There seems to be a generally positive response nationally to what the team did in the offseason. That means nothing once the season starts, but what are your own expectations for 2012-13?
A: You always want to be cautiously optimistic. If we don’t play as well in the first round against the Lakers last year, is our season a failure? I don’t think that, either. You have to look at a big picture. Our young guys got better. We raised our ceiling. Now our players understand the value of games on a Wednesday night on a back-to-back in January when you really don’t have the energy to get up and play. They understand the value of those games because they’ve had a taste of the playoffs and they understand how valuable home-court advantage can be.
Q: As both a basketball fan and an NBA executive, what are you looking forward to most as training camp approaches?
A: I’m just looking forward to seeing the new guys blend with the old guys. To say Ty is our most tenured guy now is kind of funny. Evan and Anthony (Randolph) are two new faces. We have an All-Star and an Olympian coming into the mix now, and I think he’s going to be great because our style fits the way he plays. He’s a very mature guy and he’s a great person; I think that’s going to rub off on some of our younger guys.
I’m just anxious to see us out there playing. There’s no single aspect I’m looking forward to seeing other than just getting our guys back on the court and in the gym. Everyone saw glimpses of what we had hoped for in the playoffs. By the third quarter of Game 2, our younger players realized there’s not much worse they could play. They started going off their strengths, and all of a sudden the Lakers were on their heels. If it’s a nine-game series, who knows what happens. I’m just excited to see if we can keep growing because our guys made strides last year and they took another stride late last season in the playoffs. I just want to keep building.
Q: Given the fact that there has been so much change in the past 18 months, are you looking forward to having some stability?
A: If you can keep your ears open and handle things in a professional manner, deals might come your way. You never know. We’re really excited about the group we have. They’re a bunch of good guys who are going to play hard. I think they’re going to have a lot of fun playing together – and hopefully winning together as well.