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.
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.