In some ways, this summer is as close to a fresh free agency start as Josh Kroenke, Nuggets president and governor, has ever had. Every summer had been such a huge uphill climb until now.
Seven years ago, in 2010, just as he was being installed in his current role, Kroenke was also forced to deal with trading star forward Carmelo Anthony. He’d get that done months later in a widely-celebrated deal, but the perception of the Nuggets’ organization had taken a hit.
“Coming out of a situation like that it’s not even the deal, it’s the aftermath of the deal and the perceptions and the narratives that are created around the NBA,” Kroenke said. “We were actually kind of a case studying how the modern NBA has gone with the 24-hour news cycle. I don’t know if a situation like that had arisen at that point in time. So, to be in that 24-hour news cycle like we were, and not in a positive light, it took a little bit of effort on our part to come out of that.”
In fact, as he sees it now, it has taken the Nuggets almost all seven years to get those narratives turned around. But they have been.
“I think we are fully back in the saddle of Denver being an attractive NBA city at this point in time,” he said.
That’s a big deal. Because as the Nuggets continue building back to being a regular participant in the playoffs, they have arguably never been better positioned to take advantage of the free agent market since Kroenke began in his current role than now. And there is plenty of unattached talent league-wide that can help the Nuggets.
Kroenke and president of basketball operations, Tim Connelly, have always said they won’t jeopardize the future for a quick fix now.
“You always have a sense of urgency to improve your team,” Connelly said. “But I don’t think we want to paint ourselves in such a corner that the next press conference is a deal we’re announcing that we regret the minute the ink dries. So, we’re going to be selectively aggressive.”
Still, this is a front office not afraid to take the big swing.
Last summer it was going all-in on free agent star Dwyane Wade. The Nuggets were one of a few teams to get a meeting with Wade, and it was coming out of that when Kroenke knew things had changed for his franchise.
“Last summer was a big stepping stone for us to get that meeting because it meant that not only as an organization were players of that caliber noticing what we were doing, but they were taking it very seriously,” Kroenke said. “I think guys have started to notice that and notice what we’re building here in Denver, and that’s starting to show through in the free agency landscape.”
Connelly agreed. The Nuggets have free agent priorities in a lot of different areas, and that includes their own. Forward Danilo Gallinari, the team’s leading scorer, is an unrestricted free agent. Big man Mason Plumlee, who the Nuggets acquired via trade during the season, is a restricted free agent. They’ve also expressed interest in signing shooting guard Gary Harris to a long-term extension, although he is not a free agent.
Also, Connelly said, “I think for certain we have to address some roster imbalance.” Right now, the Nuggets have a logjam of players at the power forward position. Overall, they have a host of players at almost every position except for center.
Center Nikola Jokic may prove to be a player the Nuggets can use to recruit new talent, they’ve said, and Denver is growing in attractiveness to players around the NBA.
“I think the city itself is starting to sell itself,” Connelly said. “When I got to the NBA, I couldn’t tell you three or four guys that had ever heard of Aspen. Now, there’s 10 or 20 guys going there each summer that are really good players. I think the growth of the city has been impactful.”