August 25, 2010 could very well be a watershed day in the history of the Denver Nuggets. The question is will it lead to a championship or a decade of lottery appearances? I guess there is a bit of room for some middle ground there too, but what I wrote sounds so much more dramatic.
E. Stanley Kroenke’s bid to buy the St. Louis Rams was officially approved by a unanimous vote today. As most of you know by now this directly effects the Nuggets due to an NFL policy that no NFL owner can own a professional team in one of the other primary sports leagues or the NHL in another market. In order to be in compliance with the NFL’s ownership regulations Mr. Kroenke will have to cede all operational and financial decision making to another individual by the end of 2011 and must transfer ownership by 2014.
The line of succession has been in place for quite some time as Josh Kroenke will step in to his father’s shoes and be heavily involved in all aspects of the business including player personnel decisions. Kroenke the Younger has been employed by the Nuggets for two years working in the front office for the first time last season.
Josh was not the only individual to be moving on up in the world thanks to the Nuggets today. After reports that the Nuggets had been involved in negotiations with former Phoenix Suns Assistant General Manager David Griffin to come to Denver. You can read more about Griffin here thanks to Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns. That same report mentioned that the Nuggets, who had paid Mark Warkentien bottom dollar, were doing their best to land their next GM with as little financial commitment as possible. Griffin walked away, which opened the door for Toronto Raptors’ Assistant General Manager Masai Ujiri to be named as GM.
Ujiri was the Nuggets Director of International Scouting for one season before moving on to Toronto. He was also involved in Basketball Without Borders which is an organization designed to use basketball to reach out to impoverished youths in other countries. I do not know a great deal about Ujiri, but based on his experiences even though he is only 39 he should be very well connected both domestically and internationally.
The presence of Josh Kroenke and advisor Bret Bearup indicate the GM will have a fairly limited role relative to the same position on other teams. With George Karl also having a say in player personnel decisions it will be vital that these men all have a good working relationship.
If there is a reason to be concerned with the front office as currently constructed, it is the relative inexperience of the new triumvirate. Bearup is now the old sage at 49. He is a basketball lifer, but his front office experience has been just a portion of his that experience. Uriji, 39, has spent most of his time overseas, both as a player, as a scout and as an ambassador. His current position, as limited in control as it may be, is very new to him. Josh Kroenke is the youngest member of the group as he is only 30 and has only been an NBA executive for roughly two and a half years.
Inexperience is rarely a good thing so hopefully there are plenty of good people filling out the supporting cast.
While inexperience is viewed as a negative, youth is not. We have seen young executives earn success in the NBA (Morey and Presti) as well as other professional leagues. With the advances in statistical analysis and technology leading to new and innovative ways to build and evaluate teams I do not think Nuggets fans should be afraid of the relatively young leadership team the Nuggets have concocted. They should be open to these new tools and hopefully can even drive some innovations of their own.
The reality is I have no idea where this edition of the Nuggets management team will lead the franchise and honestly, neither do you. Thanks to the present uncertainty surrounding a certain All-Star on the team I think we will be able to learn a great deal about them relatively early on in their administration.
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As Raptors blog Jurrassic Hoops points out with Uriji having been born in Africa his hiring to such a high executive position is (probably) a significant first for professional sports in the United States.
Ryan McNeill at Hoops Addict had the chance to chat with Uriji after a pre-draft workout in Tornoto.
Nate at Denver Stiffs wants to make sure you do not blame Uriji for drafting Nikiloz Tskitishvilli.
On Raptors Republic Arsenalist points out that while Ujiri is highly though of, it is impossible to know what moves he deserves credit for. If some team were to hire Rex Chapman and ask me about his time in Denver, I would not be able to point to any one transaction that I could give him credit or blame for.
On TrueHoop David Thorpe chronicles Ujiri’s journey from some guy in a gym at summer league with a sweet haricut to the first African-born NBA GM. Basically everyone who knows him likes him and he knows everyone so put those together and chalk another win up for networking.