Denver Nuggets Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri named 2012-2013 NBA Executive of the Year

UPDATE: Earlier on Friday, Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that the Nuggets had granted Tim Leiweke and MLSE permission to meet with Masai Ujiri about Toronto’s vacant General Manager position (you can find my reaction to that initial report in the original post below the asterisks). Late Friday night, Woj reported that “Ujiri will take the next couple days to fully consider the move,” but that the Raptors’ multi-year contract offer will likely lead to the reigning Executive of the Year’s departure from Denver.

Digging even deeper, Wojnarowski writes that the Kroenke family “doesn’t appear moved to make a competitive bid to hold onto him” and that citing a league source familiar with the talks, “Denver ownership ‘seems to be moving on.’”

As I had mentioned earlier on Friday, once the Nuggets granted the Raps permission to negotiate with Ujiri, the only real hurdle between MLSE and their coveted target was cleared. Based on these latest updates via Yahoo! Sports, I’d be surprised if there isn’t a reported deal in place by the time we wake up Monday morning, if not sooner.

I suppose nothing is really done until it’s done (as Raptors fans have learned in the past), but still, you’d have to assume that part of the reason the Kroenkes even allowed the Raptors to speak with Ujiri and part of the reason they don’t sound too eager to get into a bidding war for his services, is that he probably let them know he was interested in the Toronto job. I’m aware that Stan Kroenke has a reputation for undervaluing his front office staff, but in this case, would you want to start throwing massive sums of money around for a guy who may have admitted he now wants to be elsewhere?

On a final note, an interesting couple of quotes on the situation from Josh Kroenke in The Denver Post: First, while everyone knows by now that Ujiri’s contract expires on June 30, Kroenke told The Post that the Raptors position opened up as he and Ujiri were finalizing the details on a multi-million dollar, multi-year deal that had been agreed to in principle.

Here are two quotes from Kroenke in that aforementioned Denver Post story…

“In my mind, we had an agreement but it doesn’t matter because I would never hold someone back from an opportunity they might be curious about. Especially someone I hold in such high regard as Masai.”

“If it was any other team, I wouldn’t even have thought about granting permission to speak to him.”

(Again, you can read my thoughts on the original Friday afternoon report and some thoughts on the GM search in general below)

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As it became clearer and clearer that Masai Ujiri was targeted by Tim Leiweke and MLSE as the preferred General Manager of the future in Toronto, the only question remaining was whether the Nuggets would grant the Raptors permission to speak with Ujiri. Well according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, that permission has now been granted “and a meeting is expected to take place within the next 24 hours.”

Ujiri’s contract in Denver is set to expire this summer, and while common sense suggests that the incredibly wealthy Kroenke family and the Nuggets would go above and beyond to keep the Executive of the Year south of the border, Kroenke has a reputation for being frugal in these situations, with Woj adding that “current contract extension talks with Ujiri are believed to include figures that are nowhere near the commitment that Toronto’s willing to make.”

In addition, while Ujiri is reported to make between $500,000 and $1 million per year on his current contract, Wojnarowski reports that the Raptors are ready to make him an offer worth nearly $3 million per year. Again, the question was whether the Nuggets would allow the Raptors to speak with Masai. Now that that’s reportedly taken care of and the offer is expected to blow away any Denver offer, I tend to agree with Doug Smith when he wrote on Thursday that if Leiweke and Ujiri can get to talking, “I can see him being on the job by the end of the weekend.”

Earlier on Friday Ken Berger of CBS Sports reported that the Raps are also still pursuing Kevin Pritchard, but if you listened to our RaptorBlog Radio podcast on Wednesday, you’ll know that I see Pritchard, Ed Stefanski, Rick Sund and any other already recycled executives as pointless gets. That’s not meant to be a knock on their competence, but I just don’t see the point in removing Bryan Colangelo only to replace him with another run of the mill executive. If you’re going to move away from the Colangelo Era and attempt to forge a new identity, do it with an up-and-comer like Ujiri who has shown an ability to think outside of the box or a young guy like Troy Weaver who’s just waiting for his opportunity.

There’s obviously no guarantee that Ujiri, Weaver or any other young executive would be more successful than Colangelo and the aforementioned recycled GM’s, but I’d rather take my shot with some fresh blood and a fresh set of eyes instead of settling for the same tired Ol’ Boys club.

Not to mention, Ujiri stands head and shoulders above the rest right now, irrespective of his recent Executive of the Year award. Taking a team from 30 wins to 40 wins is often doable. Taking a team from 40-45 wins can be achieved with natural internal growth and a short-sighted move here and there. But taking a 53-win team, trading its marquee player, stripping it down, rebuilding on the fly and getting to 57 wins within three years, without falling out of the playoff picture even once along the way? Now that is impressive, and a heck of a lot more impressive than anything Colangelo achieved in Toronto.

Lastly, for those that believe Ujiri’s respect and admiration for Colangelo might create an awkward working environment or that it might lead to Colangelo having some say on basketball decisions, I’d say think again. Colangelo will eventually get a job offer from someone and is likely just biding his time until then. Not to mention, while I’m sure Ujiri is a nice man and that his gratefulness to Bryan is genuine, he also has an ego of his own. Do you really think that after putting a team together his way in Denver and after taking home Executive of the Year honours, that Ujiri would settle for going back to taking pointers from his old boss?

The answer is no. If the Raptors land Masai Ujiri, it will be Masai Ujiri’s team to run. Bryan Colangelo’s presence won’t change that.