Jussel: One owner, two very different franchises
The Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball Association are a work in progress.
The Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League, not so much.
Both are owned by the same man, Stan Kroenke, who also happens to own, among others, the St. Louis Rams of the National Football League and the English soccer club Arsenal, one of the most valuable sports teams in the world.
‘Tis a complicated web Kroenke weaves — so complicated in the case of the Nuggets and the Avalanche that he has ceded ownership of both teams to his son, Josh, because the NFL forbids one person from owning franchises in other markets. According to reports, Stan has until December 2014 to get rid of his interest in the Nuggets and the Avalanche.
By that time, it is hoped the Nuggets continue their pattern of climbing toward the top of the NBA and it is hoped that the Avalanche start any sort of climb.
The Nuggets are young, aggressive and exciting. They will not win the NBA title this season. That is already being handed by virtual default to the Miami Heat of LeBron James fame.
They may, however, raise a bundle of eyebrows this season — and many more over the next several seasons.
Think San Antonio Spurs in terms of consistently contending. That is where the Nuggets are heading.
With Josh Kroenke, General Manager Masai Ujiri and veteran head coach George Karl working magic together, a young roster has been pieced together that is flexible to the point that, despite losing three starters for an assortment of time over the last several weeks, the Nuggets haven’t stopped winning.
With the playoffs on deck, the Nuggets will have home-court edge in the first round and at least a slugger’s chance of winning the West, likely having to beat last year’s Western titlist, Oklahoma City, and possibly the previously mentioned Spurs.
The Nuggets, however, were not built to win the NBA title this season.
After the Ujiri-contrived trade of superstar Carmelo Anthony, they have become a grand experiment: Can a group of roughly 10 to 12 normally egocentric athletes work together well enough to overcome the superstar-centered universe of the NBA?
Can players like Ty Lawson, Kosta Koufos, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, JaVale McGee, Corey Brewer and Andre Miller overcome surefire incredible performances from Oklahoma City’s super twosome of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook? Can they use Karl’s favorite term, “teamness,” to overcome San Antonio’s super threesome of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili?
Stranger things have happened.
Can they overcome James and the Heat if they would reach the NBA Finals?
Get real; it’s still the NBA.
The real question for the Nuggets is what happens next season and beyond with the roster?
If the team wins more than its fair share down the stretch, does that make the injured Danilo Gallinari expendable?
Does Iguodala sign a long-term contract with the team, or do the Nuggets allow that large contract to move on and seek out someone else to fit in?
Will third-string center Timofey Mozgov be shipped elsewhere because he may be a starter on another team?
And will McGee, Mr. Inconsistency, become more reliable and scare the living bejesus out of every NBA foe for the next decade?
Whatever happens, the Nuggets are on the rise because Josh Kroenke and his staff have paid attention to detail and made the right moves.
So, why not the Avs?
There have been reports that the young Kroenke (not to mention the elder) simply doesn’t know or care about hockey.
Head coach Joe Sacco has been on board for four years, with the team missing the playoffs the last three. It is virtually impossible to miss the NHL playoffs, yet the Avs are making it a habit.
Denver Post columnist Woody Paige recently called for the removal of Sacco and General Manager Greg Sherman and suggested they be replaced by team legend Joe Sakic as GM and George Gwozdecky, the longtime Denver University coach whose firing just created an uproar amongst Pioneer fans.
Woody, as is usually the case, might be on to something.
Reworking the team’s staff and front office or not, the team could get a quick fix in the June 30 draft — and it could come in the form of local boy Seth Jones, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Littleton product who should be the top pick. Jones, the son of former Nugget Popeye Jones, is said to be the type of prospect who can immediately turn a team around.
The Avs, assured of no worse than the second pick in the draft, could certainly use him, if nothing else to start changing attitudes — from the Kroenkes all the way to the fans in the back row.
Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.