The Denver Nuggets are an NBA executive factory. Some of the best front-office talent in sports has come through that organization, and hopefully that’s because they have a development system like the San Antonio Spurs, because they continue to lose talent. On Monday the Minnesota Timberwolves hired Tim Connelly away from the Nuggets at a massive number. Connelly is getting a 5-year $40 million deal with ownership equity. Chalk a win up for Alex Rodriguez over Derek Jeter for arriving in a new front office and adding talent instead of jettonsing it.
But for the Nuggets, it happened again. In 2020 they lost their general manager, Artūras Karnišovas, to the Chicago Bulls. He made a major move on that roster that very season, trading for Nikola Vučević when he saw a team that needed a spark. Without Zach LaVine’s late-season injury, the Bulls at least made the play-in last season. This season — after acquiring DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso — the Bulls flirted with the top seed in the Eastern Conference and ended up winning the most games they had since 2015.
The Nuggets once had arguably the best general manager in the NBA. Masai Ujiri spent many years with the Nuggets before he left the first time, and would later return to lead the organization. He built the superstarless team that won 57 games in 2013. Following that season, for five years, $15 million, the Toronto Raptors would sign away Ujiri. He took this 1995 expansion team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in five years and made them a consistent postseason presence, and eventually an NBA Champion. With the 2022 Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes, look for the Raptors to be back in championship contention soon.
All this talent in the office building, and it shows on the court It can be said that Nikola Jokić was a lucky steal with a second-round pick in 2014. Usually when NBA teams draft players from overseas that late those players don’t even leave their professional teams right away. Jokić stayed in the Adriatic league for another season, and eight years later he is a two-time NBA MVP. The Nuggets were in the Western Conference finals in 2020, and who knows what happens in 2021 if they don’t lose Jamal Murray to a late-season ACL injury. Yet, Stan Kroenke has his Nuggets (or should I say Kroenke Sports Entertainment’s Nuggets that are in his wife’s name as well as the Colorado Avalanche) going through another front-office shake-up while Les Snead has been GM of Kroenke’s NFL franchise, the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, since 2012.
Snead certainly deserves the contract extension he recently signed. He has been hurling draft picks at other teams trying to acquire talent to keep the Rams competitive, and it finally worked. Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller were brought in near the trade deadline in 2021, and the Rams won the Super Bowl. This offseason the Rams lost Miller, but brought in Allen Robinson and Bobby Wagner.
While Snead has been doing wonders with this roster since his arrival, it wasn’t always this way. From 2012-2016 the Rams didn’t finish over .500, much less sniff the playoffs, but Snead has been with Kroenke every step of the way. Maybe it has something to do with that lawsuit that alleged Kroenke had been angling to move the Rams out of St. Louis since 2013, and was settled for nearly $800 million, so he wasn’t too concerned about the roster.
Still, his basketball team, which has been far more successful than the Rams since he purchased them in 2010, is not being treated with the same care from KSE. The company also owns the regional networks that broadcast the Avalanche and Nuggets, and most Denver sports fans can’t watch those games because Altitude Sports is not on Xfinity, the dominant cable provider in Colorado. So while the Nuggets currently have their best player since David Thompson, and the Avalanche are up 3-1 on the St. Louis Blues in their second-round series, their local market has mostly not been able to watch any of it.
There was no way the Nuggets would be able to match the Timberwolves’ offer for Connell, but maybe it wouldn’t have been a problem if they had committed to keeping their front-office stars in house. But no, instead those execs are resurrecting franchises across the NBA while the Nuggets have gold and no stability around it.
Kroenke won in L.A. He got his enormous stadium in Los Angeles County that the NFL genuflects before during every broadcast, and a Super Bowl championship won in that same stadium. Hey, what’s an $800 million settlement to a billionaire if the return price is his wildest dreams. But remember, the late Paul Allen always cared about the Portland Trail Blazers, even during the peak of the Legion of Boom Seattle Seahawks years, his other Pacific Northwest team.
Denver is a great sports town, and those fans can help a team run that real 5,280 foot altitude into an outstanding advantage at home. Even between dispensary stops these days, the people would love to be able to truly support their teams. But how can America be into the Nuggets if they’re not even appointment viewing for the locals?
Maybe Kroenke & Co. don’t have it in them to put the same spare-no-expense sprint of an effort they do every year with the Rams. That’s fine, but there has to be a balance between that and three major front office changes in 10 years for a team that has been good, and has a chance now to be great with a true superstar. If Kroenke can’t realize that, he and all with his surname need to take the giant cash windfall, and let someone who is truly invested in the Denver market and professional sports teams enjoy what’s there.