The Denver Nuggets' young front office duo of Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri aced their first mid-terms last year, but it's even more imperative the two are doing their homework when most kids their age are playing at the pool.
Okay, Kroenke (31) and Ujiri (41) aren't “kids” so to speak, but their youth cannot be missed.
Still, the youngest front office in the NBA acted well wiser than their age suggests last season as they patiently waited to pull the trigger on trading away the only superstar the Nuggets have ever had in Carmelo Anthony.
Publicly, Kroenke and Ujiri kept hopes alive that they would be able to re-sign Anthony, even though in private, Melo and his group of agents told the Nuggets there was no way the star would stay in the dusty little cow town of Denver.
Kroenke and Ujiri waited though, they wanted to see what the full team could do when veteran captain Kenyon Martin finally returned from nursing an injured knee. The Nuggets played well too, so well that the organization was likely thinking, “Come on Melo, it's going so well now. Just sign the darn contract!”
But Anthony kept telling them he wasn't going to stay in Colorado, so Kroenke and Ujiri intelligently phoned and text messaged every team in the NBA.
They weren't going to leave any stone unturned, weren't going to allow any potential deal from being explored—they knew they had to get the absolute most in return for Anthony.
And at the end of the day, even though they were forced into trading away Melo and the decision was made even more difficult when they had to include Denver native Chauncey Billups in the deal, the Nuggets' youthful front office made out like a kid in a candy store.
Kroenke and Ujiri landed five young players and multiple draft picks in the Melo mega-deal of 2011 that was the largest in NBA history.
The new-look Nuggets post-trade were a good, borderline great team, they went 18-7 to end the regular season and they were winning the right way, by playing total team basketball on both offense and defense.
But Denver didn't have enough time to truly gel, and they were completely out-played by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs.
And while it seems likely this young group could grow together, there's no way the Nuggets can keep every player on their current roster, meaning the front office is far from being done working on the makeup of the team.
Here's a look at the Nuggets' roster, their experience and contract situations:
|Raymond Felton||26||6||PG||1 Yr. $7.5 M|
|Kosta Koufos||22||3||C||2 Yr. $5.4 M|
|Timofey Mozgov||25||1||C||2 Yr. $5.3 M|
|Danilo Gallinari||22||3||SF||2 Yr. $9.9 M|
|Ty Lawson||23||2||PG||3 Yr. $7.8 M|
|Chris Andersen||32||9||C||3 Yr. $13.6 M|
|Al Harrington||31||13||SF/PF||4 Yr. $27.7 M|
RFA - Restricted Free Agent
UFA - Unrestricted Free Agent
ETO - Early Termination Option
*The money displayed is what the player's total contract is worth, given the Nuggets take all team options.
As you can see, the Nuggets currently have five free agents on their roster, and that number could become six if veteran center Nene decides to opt out of his contract, which he has already hinted at doing saying he feels unappreciated by the franchise.
Denver has already offered Nene a new deal, and now he has to decide for himself if he wants to stay with the team or take a gamble, opt out of his contract early and play the market in a time of labor uncertainty in the NBA.
The Nuggets will almost certainly try to re-sign Arron Afflalo because he's grown greatly in the last two years with the team and he has potential to be even better.
Likewise, Denver will likely offer Gary Forbes a new contract because they'll be able to sign him for a low dollar amount.
But the real, difficult decisions come with Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler.
Kenyon Martin is definitely Denver's top defender. He's physical, smart and still possesses the athleticism to stay in front of nearly any opponent. And K-Mart enjoyed his best season as a Nugget this year. But, Martin's career has been marred with injuries, and on one of the youngest squads in the NBA, does he still fit in?
Yes, K-Mart has grown into a leader, but can Denver risk more money on the older, injury-riddled power forward when the rest of the team is so young?
J.R. Smith is a conundrum. At once, he's the most athletic and extraordinary player on the court, at other times he's making boneheaded decisions like silly fouls or shooting from 30-plus feet.
Smith is also a headache and huge distraction off the court. He was released from New Orleans for arguing with his head coach, and he and George Karl have butted heads for years. Smith is a good player, he even has the potential to be a great NBA player, but he's been a distraction in Denver for far too long and should be gone.
Raymond Felton is another story altogether. He was a near All-Star point guard in New York earlier last season, but when he came to Denver, second-year player Ty Lawson was promoted to starter. Felton is certainly a starting-caliber point guard and there have been grumblings that Felton wants to be starting.
How long can Felton exist in Denver as a backup? Likely, not for long.
Lastly, Wilson Chandler is similar to his former and current teammate Felton in being a starting-caliber player. Chandler is a skilled offensive player. He can dribble and drive, or spot-up to shoot from nearly anywhere on the court. And when he wants to he can get to the hoop to dunk the ball with ferocity.
And what makes Chandler special is that he gives great effort on the defensive end as well. He understands what it takes to play solid defense, and even gets blocks on opponents from time to time.
Chandler could start at small forward on nearly any team in the NBA, but because Danilo Gallinari is a similarly special talent, with a bit more size, Karl is all-in as Gallinari as the starter for the future of the Nuggets' small forward position.
Having Chandler would be a major advantage for Denver, he is stellar off the bench as a player with the ability to do so many things on either end, but will he be willing to be a backup?
So, as you can see, the Nuggets' new brain trust has the arduous task of sitting down, talking to each one of these players and then deciding what works best for the future of the franchise in Denver.
But one thing is for sure, just because the team's makeup changed drastically four months ago, it doesn't mean it won't be changing again in the very near future.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being the CSU Rams Examiner, Kurtzman is a Denver Nuggets and NBA Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com, the Colorado/Utah Regional Correspondent for stadiumjourney.com, a weekly contributor to milehighhoops.com, a contributor to milehighreport.com writing on the Denver Broncos and a contributor to Blake Street Bulletin, part of ESPN's SweetSpot Blog Network.
Rich also manages K-Biz and Beezy, a Colorado-based rap group.
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