More Ujiri rumors: Does a glimmer of hope remain?

There was a sudden whirlwind of rumors and reports last Friday during the time leading up to and just after Masai Ujiri met with the Raptors to discuss the possibility of leaving the Nuggets to take the helm at Toronto’s front office. But hings quickly went silent thereafter, and few whispers have been heard on the matter since the tumultuous events of last weekend.

However, Steve Kyler, editor and publisher of Hoopsworld and an NBA writer for USA Today, was recently answering some questions on Twitter (follow him here), and if his sources are accurate, his responses could possibly shed some new light on some of the details, and perhaps even provide Nuggets fans with a ray of hope (albeit dim) in the gloom of the ongoing Ujiri saga.

For easier readability, I have slightly modified Kyler’s tweet chain below, putting it in a less “twittery” and more standard, chronological Q&A transcript form. Please either scroll down Kyler’s timeline or follow the links to the tweets (posted below) if you want to see the original posts.

Q: [What are the] odds Toronto lands Ujiri? What’s option B?

Steve Kyler: I think Denver steps up and pays him, so [that’s] somewhat moot.

Q: That goes against everything being reported, especially Denver paying him.

SK: That is the only issue. Masai has been massively underpaid by NBA standards and the Toronto offer is a bigger control situation.

Q: Why won’t Denver match the offer?

SK: Whats the number? [The] Nuggets owe a ton and if [the] Raptors’ offer is significant how do you pay it?

Q: That’s why I was surprised to see you infer that he will end up staying in Denver.

SK: [I’ve] been told if Denver matches he’d stay. That’s the unknown. What’s the offer, what’s the role, what’s the money? Denver can match and I think they will. The story is Denver and Masai had an agreement in principle on a new deal, then Toronto called. Denver let Masai talk with the Raptors, which took place on Friday. [The] Raptors’ offer was roughly $3 million per year.

The ball is back in Denver’s corner to match [with a] similar offer. Given how Josh Kroneke feels about Masai, I think they will. [But] $3 million for an executive is a big number, so I am sure there is debate and some consideration of a Plan B.

Q: If he feels so strongly then why give Raps permission at all?

SK: [You] never want a guy having second thoughts.

The first thing many will notice is that some of these statements seem to directly contradict Adrian Wojnarowski’s recent report (which Kalen posted about) that in no uncertain terms painted a picture that Ujiri is likely as good as gone from the Nuggets. And as Woj tends to be seen as the gold standard when it comes to the accuracy of such reports, it would seem unwise to err against him when things get into “my story against yours” territory.

However, Kyler is a credible, well-sourced NBA reporter in his own right, and his report certainly should not be easily dismissed, either. This situation is still in flux. Ujiri’s meeting with Toronto did happen, as did their big offer, which definitely appears not to bode well for the majority of Nuggets fans who wish to see Denver keep him on board.

But that he’s gone is not yet a foregone conclusion. I do not wish to drum up baseless, false hopes here, but there are some encouraging signs in Kyler’s assessment.

To most Nuggets fans (myself included) it is a no-brainer to pay Ujiri what he’s worth. But to play devil’s advocaate, it is easy for us to say so when it’s not our money being spent. At the very least, there may be more credibility than we would like to believe in the notion that the amount of money involved complicates the situation.

I personally feel that it really is just as simple as “Just pay the man what he’s worth!”, but that is a lot of dough, and it’s at least a little understandable that that could cause there to be some conflicted views within the Nuggets organization. In terms of whether Kyler’s reports are accurate or not, the apparent conflict between Josh Kroenke’s appreciation of and respect for Ujiri, and the hesitation of the organization (read: the apparent cheapness of Stan Kroenke) rings plausible, and it opens a door to the possibility that the Nuggets are still operating in good faith (even if it’s stingy good faith) with Ujiri.

But of course there are more interesting morsels in there.

If it’s true that “Denver and Masai had an agreement in principle on a new deal,” that’s potentially gut wrenching news for Nuggets fans. Now, we cannot rule out the possibility that Ujiri himself wanted to hold out on a new contract until the end of the season, knowing full well that that would be the best way to get the best pay. He didn’t win Executive of the Year because he’s stupid, and though he may be humble, he’s certainly aware of his success and how it’s upped his stature and value in the league.

But if the Nuggets did, in fact, have earlier opportunities to extend his contract (likely for less money) and failed to jump on them when they had the chance, that is not only completely unforgivable from a personnel management and public relations standpoint, it’s also just plain and simply bad business to unload the engine of your success.

If you want to drive fast, you can’t trade in your Porsche for a Yugo.

Then there is the report that if the Nuggets match the Raptors’ offer, Ujiri will stay in Denver. The odds, unfortunately, still appear to lean towards his departure. And it’s a safe bet the longer Denver holds out on him, the less likely he’ll be to want to stick around.

But if it is indeed true that Ujiri’s preference would be to remain in Denver so long as they match Toronto’s offer, that could be the game-changer Nuggets fans are hoping against hope for. The hope that Josh Skywalker might convince Stan Vader that there is still some good left in him.

The situation still looks grim, but perhaps not all hope is lost. The iron may not be red hot anymore, but it still at least may be malleable enough to prevent this fiasco from escalating into a full-blown train wreck.

But if the worst does come to pass, and the Nuggets end up being the Keystone Kops that fumbled and bumbled and let their man get away, the two residual messages the fans will be left with are:

1) We don’t give a rat’s ass about you or your financial and emotional investment in this team.

…and:

2) We are not seriously committed to building a championship team, and instead are content to wallow in mediocrity for the foreseeable future.

If that’s the broadcast they transmit, they should rightfully expect to have a much smaller, and much less passionate and supportive fan base next season.

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 (Links to the tweets from Steve Kyler quoted above can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here).

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Joel is a long time Denver Nuggets (and Broncos) fan from Colorado who's been living in Japan since the mid-90s, and blogging about the Nuggets since 2008. You can contact and follow him on Twitter: @denbutsu.
  • Hawkeye-X

    If Ujiri leaves Denver for Toronto, then I want the entire Kroenke family to put the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche franchise up for sale ONLY to local and committed (and loyal) owner that will keep the team in Denver.

    I don’t care what they do to St. Louis Rams, and the Arsenal. Both do not hold interest for me, and Kroenke has already screwed up both the Avs and the Nuggets if Ujiri is let go.

    • Scott

      Denver teams aren’t going anywhere… Not a huge market like LA or NYC but big enough and enough population. Don’t know where you got that idea.

  • Dave

    Hawkeye did bring up Arsenal, which is an interesting comparison here actually. One the one hand, Arsenal have done their best to keep solid senior management around (A. Wenger) and on the other, be about the cheapest upper-tier team in English soccer. It’s true that they do not have massive debts like the other teams in England though…
    Anyway, the point is that Kroenke has a track-record of simply making sure the books are balanced even if it means giving up on a championship run. They have consistently done that in England and simply hope that they catch lightning in a bottle in a one-off. If ujiri is off to Toronto it would seem the same strategy is in place in Denver. If that’s true, your (Joel) second point is right on: There is only a commitment to having an interesting team rather than a Western Conference Champion team. And that has proven to be like candy…tastes good for a while, but it’s empty calories.

  • Jeff

    Okay I guess I just like to play devils advocate, but I find it hard to believe not bringing back Ujiri is a deal breaker for so many Nuggets fans. I like all the moves he made but I honestly view the current roster he put together as OVERACHIEVING, maybe that’s just me. Your faith in the franchise rests solely in the hands of a third year GM? Again I will reiterate that I’m a huge fan of what Masai has done for the team so far, but I will not burn my nuggets gear if he walks.

  • GB

    I’m done if they re-up Karl. But if they let Ujiri leave, I’ll hang around for this next season and see how his replacement does.

  • http://yahoo mile high

    I believe that this is all a bargaining game by both Masai and the Nuggets, with Masai leaking leads and info to get the Kroenkes in line. That’s why the sudden noise and the sudden quiet.

  • Ben

    I’m nervous as hell. I know all you Nuggets fans remember the Bernie Bickerstaff “GM” days and don’t want to return to that debacle so I get that & understand where Nuggs fans are coming from with the threats of giving up. I love Masai & I hope the Kroenke’s get their thinkers our of their stinkers and bring him back. If he does walk I hope that a) they can grab someone off the Thunder or Spurs who have proven year in year out to get the right players & b) Toronto sucks for years to come

  • Wood

    Here’s the problem. I believe Masai is a smart guy and if he goes to Toronto he will eventually compete for titles because he will a) have an ownership willing to spend and more importantly b) he will no longer be tied to Coach Karl. I want Masai to stay but even if he does those other two issues remain. In fact a new GM may be the one way to see Karl out the door sooner rather than later which, given a good hire, would do more to boost the Nuggets chances over the next couple of seasons than anything else. I have to disagree with Ben about getting someone from the Thunder though. Ibaka and Westbrook were above average calls but still early picks and Durant was just the luck of the lottery. They mangled the Harden affair and the rest of the roster is crap. I am not impressed.

  • lcoreyl

    How is an extra 1-2M/year expensive? This is the person who is spending the Nugg Bucks–mistakes made by the GM can cost the Nuggs a lot more than a couple million a year!

  • Aaron

    You made the comment about how the bigs are a black hole but you can’t forget that they seldom get the ball unless it’s an lob/roll to the rim or an offensive rebound (not situations where they’re supposed to look for a pass). It seems like most of the big men that pass are guys that post up a player and pass out of the double team, something that none of Denver’s bigs do much (especially not Faried).

    • Charlie

      You’re right. Denver rarely put their bigs in the high post or really in any position to make a play outside of dunks and offensive boards.

      I honestly didn’t mean to blame the players for that. It’s the whole strategy/philosophy. I’m not sure Denver can succeed long-term like that.

      For instance — JaVale. the Nuggets paid him huge money and brought him off the bench for 18 mpg. They could have had Randolph in that same role. They both do the same stuff – dunk, block shots and rebound. Denver might not have won 57 but they would have been good. Is that a good long-term strategy for JaVale or the Nuggets? I truly don’t think it is.

  • fakename

    Ujiri has played the league like a violin, if you think he’s not going to play the media in a contract negotiation for himself… than all of you are fools. I don’t think any of the “leaked” information means one thing or another. What is important is the Kroenke’s history of negotiating with gm’s which is bad news for Nuggets fans. They let Mark Warkentein leave after he won exec of the year and let Kiki Vanderweigh leave when he was being pursued. The real question is, Is Ujiri the executive of the year or are the Kroenke’s?

  • JoelK
  • Mikey K

    You afford Masai by doing this:

    From ESPN:
    One source added that Paul is also steering clear of the Clippers’
    search for a new coach. The Clippers have a short list of Jeff Van
    Gundy, Brian Shaw and Byron Scott, according to a source. They are also
    considering asking the Nuggets for permission to interview coach George
    Karl.

    You let them not only talk to him, you let them take him and hire someone with a pulse.