What to make of the Nuggets’ front office exodus

On Wednesday, Josh Kroenke continued his all-out assault on the Nuggets front office after the most successful regular season in franchise history. The Denver Post’s Chris Dempsey is reporting the Nuggets have lost two more front office members in director of player personnel, Mike Bratz, and scouting director Dan Tolzman. While Bratz’s future remains up in the air, the Post’s Benjamin Hochman is reporting Tolzman has taken a “director-level scouting job” with the Raptors. The number of front office members to leave the Nuggets organization this summer now stands at four — and counting.

First, if you haven’t seen Pete D’Alessandro’s introductory press conference as the Sacramento Kings’ new general manager, I highly suggest you take the time to watch it. It’s very interesting from a Nuggets fan’s standpoint. Why? Because Pete D’Al comes off as an incredibly intelligent, incredibly savvy, incredibly hungry and incredibly passionate dude. You know, the exact type of guy who generally succeeds in the everyday world and who usually isn’t found in an NBA front office. I must admit: I wasn’t really depressed about the Nuggets’ offseason debacle until I watched that press conference. That’s sort of when it hit me, as in: Holy crap, is this really happening? While there’s no guarantee D’Al will turn into the next Masai Ujiri, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize talent — and that dude has it. At this juncture I feel pretty confident saying the Nuggets lost two of the future (and current, in Ujiri’s case) top five general managers in the league.

In his presser D’Al talked for a long time. He answered many questions and even gave a shoutout to the Sacramento Kings TrueHoop blog, Cowbell Kingdom. But of the half hour he spent covering everything from his childhood to advanced statistics, one specific part of his speech stood out like a sore thumb, and that was his explanation as to why he fled Denver to Sacramento. This is what he had to say:

To work with Josh would have been incredible. But when are you gonna step out? And when are you gonna do your thing? When are you gonna actually take a leap and believe in what you can do? I’ve always been that second guy. I’ve always been, you know, the guy who could help. And we’ve had success everywhere I’ve gone. And I feel I’m ready.

That one paragraph said more about the current state of the Nuggets than any columnist, blogger or talking head has said over the last three weeks since Ujiri first announced he was leaving for Toronto. In a brief, eight-sentence monologue, D’Al essentially confirmed the one thing we’ve been wanting to know all along: Yes, Josh Kroenke is heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of Denver Nuggets; and no, he doesn’t plan on relinquishing those duties anytime soon.

Remember, D’Al was in the running for the HEAD general manager position in Denver. He was supposed to be replacing Ujiri to be THE guy. He wasn’t interviewing to be assistant GM. He was already assistant GM. Yet… yet… D’Al TOTALLY answered that question as if he was STILL going to be playing second fiddle to someone else. That someone else, obviously being the aforementioned Josh Kroenke.

This summer it’s become very apparent that Josh Kroenke is running the show in Denver; however, I feel his exact role in the organization has been somewhat blurry… until now. To me, that D’Al quote said it all. I know it’s an extremely small sample size and usually I’m not one to over analyze the routine banalities of a press conference, but this is an exception. D’Al’s was honest as he could be throughout that entire interview. He didn’t skate around anything and made a point of answering each question with authenticity. (After all, this was his introduction to thousands of Kings fans across the globe.) When asked why he left the Nuggets, D’Al made it very clear he wanted to be lead dog and even if he’d been named to Masai Ujiri’s old position he still wouldn’t have had complete oversight of the decision-making process. This can only lead us to believe that whomever is general manager in Denver will always answer to Josh Kroenke — or at least, that’s the way it seems at this period in Nuggets history.

Josh Kroenke’s insistence on turning the Nuggets into a monarchy rather than a democracy has resulted in the departure of George Karl, Masai Ujiri, Pete D’Alessandro and several top executives responsible for scouting, which the Nuggets have been superb at over the last three years. Instead of modestly bestowing more responsibilities upon himself, Kroenke has brashly overturned the most promising front office unit in the NBA. And all for the sake of what? An ego? An unwavering belief in himself and his own abilities? Look, any man with a brain and an opinion can possess conviction. Give that man a few million dollars and you’ve got the recipe for one hell of a power trip. But surrounding yourself with other intelligent people, understanding the true value of different opinions, and having the humility to let others take a tad more credit than they possibly deserved — that takes wisdom. In this regard, it seems Josh Kroenke may have missed the boat. Because while he’s paying George Karl $3 million next year NOT to coach basketball, he could have easily had Masai Ujiri and most likely his entire team back by his side for not too much more.

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Kalen Deremo

Kalen was born in Durango, CO, in 1988 and graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a degree in journalism. He's now an itinerant hoping to travel as much as possible before eventually succumbing to the "real world." Aside from writing Kalen likes movies, music, spicy food and the great outdoors. Edward Abbey is his current idol.

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  • Dikembe

    You cant blame Kroenke for losing Ujiri he called toronto his home and was wanting to go back. Karl is a decision that only time can tell. I do agree D’Al looked like a great man for the job but hey maybe Kroenke will turn out to be the man we need. Nobody’s given him a chance yet and it seems we have no choice but to let him. I’m just hoping everything will turn out better than you seem to make it sound.

  • http://Twitter.com/A_Rodriguez8 D3Ntilthe3ND

    Pete was real close with GK & Masai & I think him leaving was more of a personal choice than anything.

  • dynamo.joe

    The latest defections(?) presumably have more to do with Timmy than with Josh. Or at least we have no reason to believe one scenario over the other.

    Now the Pete D thing, I agree with Kalen. It sounded a lot like “I like collaboration, but I want final decision making power”. That statement, actually could belong to either Josh or Pete.

    Here is what I find interesting. You know what Sacto needs desperately? A SF. You know who has a plethora of SF’s? Not sure who I would want from Sacto. Tyreke for Chandler? Toney Douglas for Hamilton or QMiller? As long as we stayed away from the basketball atrocity that is DeMarcus Cousins, I think I would be OK with those. Maybe we could even get their 2nd rounder (36)?

    Probably the best of those is Tyreke for Chandler, assuming Iggy walks.

    • LBJ

      If you are right – Timmy’s decision to get rid of the scouts that drafted Faried and Fournier to bring in the scouts that drafted Rivers is one helluva start!

    • Qmill30

      I’m a huge Tyreke fan. I think in the right situation he’ll be a star. Always wanted him on the nuggets but have always been hesitant to suggest it because of our shooting woes

      • dynamo.joe

        He hasn’t been an all-star caliber player, but just a step or 2 below that and only 23, that could still be his future. You are right, he is not a 3pt shooter, but he is still an effective scorer.

        I think a lot of our thinking will have to change now that Karl is gone. I know people are hating on YMCAn’re, but if Karl AND his 2 PG system are gone, is Andre still a liability? A lot depends on the new coach.

        Anyway, getting back to Tyreke, is 3pt shooting still our number one need? If we are not running a small ball offense that relies heavily on outside shooting threats to create space then maybe a guy who can attack the rim has more value.

  • http://www.chrisreinhard.com Christopher Reinhard

    I think you could be reading the quote inaccurately. What it sounds like is not only will Josh Kroenke continue to be the guy who ultimately makes decisions in Denver—but that he’s been that guy for some time now. If that’s true, there is some reason to believe that losing Masai doesn’t mean we lost the most important guy in our front office. You have to believe that Josh is partially responsible for the success we’ve had in the draft and free agency over the past few years, and people like Masai, D’Allessandro, Bratz and Tolzman were his (highly capable) supporting cast.

    If there’s reason to believe that, there’s reason to believe Josh is taking the proper steps to surround himself with new talent that will share his vision and continue to deliver successful moves in the future.

    I actually feel better about the team’s state of affairs after reading this article. Of course, whether that’s the right way to feel is yet to be determined.

  • Charliemyboy

    I would love to be optimistic but have to be on hold. If Kroenke is dictatorial, we won’t get a good coach. That could be the dump. Word will get out. Losing all the management team in a record year. If he gets Shaw or Hollins, then perception is that he would be good to work for. We’ll see. Poor coach=loss of attendence=less money for his ego. We’ll see. Feel sorry for George, age can’t land him a job.

    • LBJ

      Shaw is not some great “get” – the guy has been passed over by 5 teams. If anyone offers, he will say yes. I would probably put Hollins in the same category – his contract is up and he is no longer getting paid.

      • Charliemyboy

        So who is left? Hey George Karl is available… no, more of the same. 57 wins…

        • LBJ

          A great “get” would be Doc Rivers – who is apparently available. The chance that Josh would pick up his $7 million a year contract – zero!

          • http://www.chrisreinhard.com Christopher Reinhard

            He’s not worth $7 million a year.

  • JJ

    He probably won’t pay karl 3 mill because karl will probably be hired by another team.

  • Ckwizard

    Well if Josh Kroenke is willing to try and take “his” team to championship status and had the foresight to realize that GK was probably not the “Guy” but was willing to “give” GK next year to prove something… But then GK asks for an extension and it becomes apparent to GK that the owner doesn’t believe in him and he actually has to prove something and can’t stand on his record any more… Then the owner fires GK and is now trying to actually make moves that “may” make Denver an actual challenger for a championship… Time will tell if Josh Kroenke will reach that level of success but as of right now he is speaking and acting like he “truly” wants a “championship”…. I like our owner!

  • Henry Hughes

    Well, I was with you, Kalen, until you attempted to describe Kroenke’s approach with some notion of a monarchy-democracy dichotomy. First, though, let me be sure to say I agree with your assessment of the D’Alessandro quote: Seems like a reasonable confirmation that Kroenke is calling a lot of the shots. And I don’t necessarily like it, but I’ll hide and watch just as I did after the last regime change. That one worked out nicely for our Nuggets.

    But it’s specious to suggest that any massive sports franchise could be organized as a democracy. What would that even mean? Denver’s NBA team, like almost every other major pro sports organization, is owned and operated by a super-rich family. Decisions are their responsibility, and theirs alone. They may delegate that decision-making and stay out of the hair of their subordinates; or they may require that some or most major decisions be directly approved by their Highnesses. They might even set up some nice, touchy-feely group management process, wherein everyone’s input is given serious consideration; maybe it even looks like consensus

    Regardless, it cannot be characterized as democracy, and the process for running the show is created and implemented at their pleasure.

  • JED89

    I think it’s a good thing that Josh is and has been involved in day to day decision making because that means he has had a heavy hand in a lot of the decisions that the nuggets have made that i agree with and none more than letting GK go. If he hires a coach with the vision this team is looking for I will be thrilled. It gives this team continuity going forward and it could just prove that Josh has been very good at running this team behind the scenes.

    • LBJ

      Or Josh is just claiming credit for other people’s work….

  • SLLjapan

    That’s not the way I interpret D’Al’s statements: the Nuggets are a
    team assembled and requiring tweaks to get them over the hump. The
    Kings are a team that requires scrap-and-build, the opportunity for D’Al
    to create rather than adjust. He’s hungry to make his own mark, not to
    enhance someone else’s success. Winning with the current Nuggets
    roster will be “Hey, that was Masai’s team.” Winning in a couple of years with Sac-town will be “Hey, that’s D’Al’s team.”

  • pgwarner

    I don’t know if I can speculate the
    way you do, Kalen. You guys (Roundball Minning) have the advantage over us
    because you have met or know people who know these people so you can get a feel
    in a way we can’t.

    From what I have seen and read
    Josh is sticking to his “I want everyone to be on the same page” line
    of thinking. Its clear Karl experienced a disconnect with Josh and Ujiri last
    season. He said as much. These other people who are going like Pete, though
    they maybe very talented, may not fit with Josh’s vision. There are plenty of
    hungry and talented people out there who just need a chance.

    Let’s remember it was the
    Kroenkes who hired two unknown young hungry guys in a row who then became NBA Executive
    of the year. If Josh can judge that kind of raw “talent” (the executive kind)
    then he will be very sucessful.

    Josh said, and Ujiri has not
    denied it, that he had an agreement Ujiri for a new contract and Ujiri broke it
    and signed with Toronto.
    Ujiri also told Josh not to try match the Raptor’s offer because he wanted to
    go “home” to Toronto.

    Karl made his own bed. He did not
    play the guys they wanted him to play. He lost contact with his management.
    Then he asked for a new contact. He had to be fired at that point.

    It’s a “vision” thing for now.
    Time will tell. I see no cheap, disloyal, and ignorant dictator at work here.

    I so love this bog. Thanks for
    all the hard work you guys put in on it.

  • Qmill30

    No doubt was Masai a good GM.

    But there is a slight chance he was overrated.

    He gets a lot of credit for the Carmelo trade but that was also partly Kroenke and the stupid Knicks ownership and not the kind of trade he’ll probably have to make again.

    I give him credit for the great drafting of Faried. Fournier looks like a nice player as well.

    But even with the nice trade for Iggy and nice extension for Lawson (Gallo was OK – jury still out) he has handed out some questionable extensions. Not necessarily bad ones but questionable.

    But basically the biggest question I have is his ability to turn a good team into a great one which is what we need and the hardest thing to do. I’m sure he’ll turn Toronto into a playoff team but can he turn them into a contender? Of course in the NBA it’s usually better to be lucky than good and strike gold in the lottery.

    So yeah I like Ujiri I just don’t know if he’s a huge huge loss. Was excited for Pete D and was disappointed when he went to the kings but this Connelly guy also sounds promising and I think Kroenke is savvier than he gets credit for. Time will tell I guess.