Nuggets Journal: Reading between the lines of Josh Kroenke’s fascinating news conference

When Josh Kroenke stepped to the podium Friday afternoon, fielding questions for more than 30 minutes, the assembled media were hardly the only interested parties.

There were several members of the Nuggets’ front office in the room and several other Altitude executives, all curious what Kroenke would say in his first media appearance in more than four years.

When you don’t talk for that long, the issues compound, which is why I informally asked him to make Friday’s State-of-the-Nuggets an annual tradition. Fingers crossed.

Between the headline-worthy news of Kroenke endorsing Calvin Booth as the team’s top decision-maker, suggesting shortly after that an extension could be coming his way as well, and incessant parrying of all things Altitude-Comcast, Stan Kroenke’s son said a number of interesting things that warranted further examination.

In the aftermath of Tim Connelly’s stunning departure to Minnesota, Kroenke had to explain to fans (and other interested parties) how he’d let another high-level executive leave, to a division rival no less. While he left out some of the sensitive details, there was plenty more to parse.

Kroenke admitted he’d messed up when he included an opt-out in Connelly’s contract after his third season, but zoom out a bit. He also conceded that after the Wizards tried to poach Connelly in 2019, Connelly had stayed in Denver, bypassing the chance to oversee the team that was closest to his Baltimore roots, for less money. So for three seasons, he was already taking less than what a different team valued him at. Kroenke said bonuses could’ve made up the difference, but who’s to say there weren’t bonuses in the Wizards’ offer as well?

That was the preamble to Minnesota’s loosely-guarded overture.

Kroenke said the term “equity” had been floated to him in regards to Connelly’s negotiations. When asked specifically what had been relayed to him, Kroenke chose his words carefully. He didn’t know exactly what the Timberwolves had offered Connelly – even invoking the phrase “phantom equity” – but intimated there was some type of bonus scheme. Regardless of what it was, Kroenke said the Nuggets aren’t a “startup” organization that would offer such incentives.

“I think that we’ve done a very good job of identifying good, young front office talent,” he said. “Maybe too good. I’ve had two of my guys poached and you know, on the front end of it, I was told how dumb I am. And on the back end of it, I’m told how dumb I am to let them go. … Ultimately when you go to a stratosphere that some clubs, you say some desperate clubs, are willing to go to, there’s a tier out there that just kind of doesn’t make sense.”

Kroenke’s term “desperate,” which he used twice, didn’t seem like an accident. On one hand, it could easily be construed as a swipe at Minnesota, who Kroenke said, propositioned Connelly through the “side door.” On the other, if a team is desperate to win, why is that a negative? Doesn’t that indicate a willingness to win, at whatever cost?

Reading between the lines, it’s safe to assume there was some bitterness at how Connelly’s departure played out. It’s important to remember, too, that Connelly never wanted to leave.

But now that he has, consider that 10% of the NBA (and more if you count Masai Ujiri in Toronto), is being run by an executive tied to Connelly with Arturas Karnisovas in Chicago, Booth in Denver and Connelly, himself, in Minnesota.

Despite all the drama, Kroenke recalibrated the news conference when he reminded everyone of his intention to travel to Serbia again to present Nikola Jokic with a supermax contract. And then before leaving, after addressing myriad issues that had piled up, he underscored the expectations heading into the season.

“It’s championship or bust,” Kroenke said. “And those are the first time those words have been uttered around these halls. We have a two-time MVP, we have two more All-Star caliber players coming off injuries. I think that we are poised in a way that this organization perhaps hasn’t been in the past and that excites me. But that brings a lot of pressure.”

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