By Mark Knudson @ Mark Knudson41 Special to WoodyPaige.com
Less than a month after the NBA named him “Coach of the Year” in 2013, Basketball Hall of Famer-to-be George Karl was fired by the Denver Nuggets. That came on the heels of the departure of NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, who left Denver for a better paying gig with the Toronto Raptors just a week earlier.
The axe fell on Karl in early June. The front office shake up – coming after Denver had won a franchise-record 57 regular season games that season – was basically Nuggets President Josh Kroenke – whose resume included a stint as a back-up guard at the University of Missouri and several years of hanging around his billionaire father (and Nuggets owner) Stan – announcing to the sports world that he knew more about basketball at age 33 than Karl and Ujiri. He was letting everyone know he didn’t need those guys; that he could take the Nuggets to the top all by himself.
Since Ujiri and Karl’s departures, and with the younger Kroenke in firm control of the franchise, the Nuggets have failed to post a winning record or make the NBA post season any of the past four seasons. They’ve gone through three head coaches with lots of roster turnover. You might think that after four years of relative futility, Kroenke would re-think his position and seek some additional front office help…IF a qualified person happened to be available. That would be called executive leadership.
Actually that person – THE person, actually – who could turn the Nuggets into a legitimate contender, IS available. He has been since he retired as a player in 2014.
That person is Chauncey Billups, Denver native. High school legend. University of Colorado All-American. Mr. Big Shot. NBA Finals MVP. Potential NBA Hall of Famer. And very possibly the next General Manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Billups has recently interviewed for the Cavs GM position. He’s reportedly mulling over a five-year offer and everything that goes with the job. He and his family still live in Denver. He commutes to Los Angeles for his television gig. Apparently he’s not excited about working so far from home.
Obviously Billups has the respect of the league’s best player, LeBron James, or his candidacy for the Cavs gig would have crashed long ago. Apparently he’s qualified to take over the three-time Eastern Conference (and 2016 NBA) Champions… but not a team – in his hometown – that hasn’t made the play-off in four years.
Sigh. It seems so obvious, yet it’s so far from happening. Clearly, Chauncey should be running the Denver Nuggets. Everyone but Kroenke can see that.
Ego has been the undoing of many professional sports owners. But guys like Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins for example, and others like him, are typically older guys who have had a lot of success and made a lot of money in other businesses, therefore sort of earning the “I know more than you” point of view. Young Kroenke however, appears to lean more toward having been one who was born on third base but grew up thinking he hit a triple.
Billups wanted a Nuggets gig for awhile, but reportedly has given up (understandably) on the notion of working with Kroenke. It’s a pity for Denver hoops fans, because Billups, respected throughout the league by his peers, front office types and players as well, is about the only guy out there who could actually “sell” Denver as a destination for a top tier NBA free agent. He’s the best ambassador Denver sports has this side of John Elway (and that GM hire turned out pretty well, right?) Yet it’s quite possible Denver could lose him to – of all places – Cleveland.
As a player, Elway led “The Drive” and later there was “The Fumble” when the Broncos beat the Browns in AFC title games. So what would Denver sports fans call having Billups leave to take over in Cleveland? “The Bumble” maybe?
Sadly, if Kroenke made Billups a five-year contract offer like the one the Cavs did, he’d have signed it in a split second and been out recruiting talent before the ink was dry. The Nuggets season-ticket base would get a boost, and suddenly NBA basketball would mean something again in the Rocky Mountains. As is, the Nuggets could be heading for another stint at the bottom of the NBA attendance standings.
As Karl found out, basketball pedigree doesn’t appear to matter to Josh Kroenke.