A few years back I exchanged e-mails with a Raptors Republic blogger (I think it was Sam Holako) about Masai Ujiri. Although he was still just beginning his career in Denver, it was clear Ujiri had the innate ability to evaluate talent that Bryan Colangelo lacked. I said I felt bad for Raptors fans, that they deserved better given their struggles since, well forever, but I also didn’t feel bad for them. After all, Ujiri was in Denver. It wasn’t my favorite team he’d be terrorizing.
It’s funny how life works. Never in a million years did I think there was even a chance Ujiri would leave Denver. After his contract expired this season I just figured, like a lot of fans, that the Nuggets front office would buckle down and pay the man his worth. The thought of another team coming in and sweeping him away didn’t even cross my mind. Clearly it didn’t cross the minds of Josh and Stan Kroenke either.
The difference is: I’m a fan. We’re all fans here. Josh and Stan Kroenke are millionaires. They’ve had a lifetime of making decisions a million times better than the ones I’ve made (hence, the millionaire status). Their job is to make tough decisions where lots and lots of money is involved. Yet when it came to perhaps the biggest decision in franchise history, they couldn’t have done any worse than the most incompetent of armchair general managers that pollute the neverending cyberspace where I currently write this article.
I remember last October during Media Day how several people asked Josh Kroenke when he was gonna extend Ujiri. Kroenke sort of smiled — maybe he patted Ujiri on the back or nudged him in the side — and played it off cool like there was nothing to worry about. As a fan, I had confidence in him. He was the guy who hired Ujiri in the first place. I had no reason to doubt him. My only question looking back was, why was he so confident? He didn’t re-sign Ujiri when he had plenty of time, when he knew Ujiri was one of the best general managers in the league and no other team could approach him about taking a position elsewhere. I don’t want to come off as an insensitive ass here, but since Day 1 Josh Kroenke has played the role of Mr. Cool when it came to talking about an Ujiri extension, when the fact is, the very moment Ujiri had a chance to leave Denver, he did.
You just cannot be that confident when you don’t have a reason to be. You can’t assure the media and fans that there’s nothing to worry about when there totally is. And above all else, you can’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk. You either hint that Ujiri is coming back and reach into your pockets to back it up, or you don’t say anything at all. It’s that simple. Fans, or at least I, felt that Denver ownership was gonna do what it took to bring Ujiri back and pay him his worth along the way. Instead, they low-balled quite possibly the best general manager in the league and didn’t even try to put up a fight when someone else offered to pay him the salary he deserved.
This is now the second time in the last five years that a Nuggets general manager has won NBA Executive of the Year only to be let go the following season. Let that simmer in your brain for a second. While Mark Warkentien was no Masai Ujiri, the principle remains the same: Denver Nuggets ownership — no matter what Kroenke is running things — doesn’t believe in paying the person most responsible for the team’s success. And the way I see, they’re no better than the worst pennypushers in professional basketball.