Who Will Be The Nuggets’ Next GM?
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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In the last two weeks alone the Nuggets have now lost D’Alessandro, general manager Masai Ujiri and head coach George Karl.
The search for the next head coach is already underway with the Nuggets zeroing in on Brian Shaw and Lionel Hollins as the top two candidates, but now with D’Alessandro, their top in-house replacement for Ujiri, in Sacramento they also have to find their next general manager.
Nuggets president Josh Kroenke has the last say when it comes to personnel moves. So, the next GM in Denver needs to be more of a facilitator of Kroenke’s wishes than an architect.
The team already has Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler signed to long-term deals. Kenneth Faried has blossomed into a starting-caliber forward, and they also have promising young prospects in Quincy Miller, Jordan Hamilton and Evan Fournier. With $51 million in guaranteed contracts already on the books next season, the Nuggets lack the flexibility to do anything serious in free agency outside of using their exceptions and trying to re-sign Andre Iguodala, who is expected to exercise his early termination option to become a free agent this offseason. The Nuggets have his bird rights, though, so they do have an advantage over other teams looking to sign him – if they decide they want to give him the kind of long-term deal he’s hoping for.
At this point the Nuggets seem to be in the early stages of their search, but there are plenty of quality candidates throughout the league. Here’s a deeper look at just who is out there:
Griffin currently serves as the vice president of basketball operations for the Cleveland Cavaliers, a role he has occupied since September of 2010. Before being hired in Cleveland, Griffin spent 17 seasons with the Phoenix Suns.
Originally hired as an intern in the communications department, Griffin was moved into basketball operations four years later. Although his work with the team largely went unpublicised, Griffin had a hand in the Suns’ return to glory. By the time he left the team, he had moved all the way from communications intern in 1993 to senior vice president of basketball operations in 2007.
Griffin was an advocate of the use of advanced analytics before a near league-wide movement toward using them began. His imprint is particularly visible with the draft picks the Cavaliers have made, such as Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller and Kyrie Irving.
With 16 years of experience, serving in just about every front office role there is other than GM, Griffin’s time to be in charge of a team is probably in the near future whether the Nuggets hire him or not.
Both the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings showed interest in Morway for their vacant GM positions this offseason, but ultimately the fit wasn’t right for either side.
Morway and the Indiana Pacers parted ways last offseason after his relationship with team president, Larry Bird, weakened in recent years. Bird replaced him with Kevin Pritchard, but it would be unfair to say the Pacers’ success this year couldn’t at least be partially attributed to the work the Morway had done since becoming the GM in 2008. Overall he spent 14 years with the Pacers, in various roles.
After the manner in which things went down in Indiana, with Morway being ousted just prior to the team making their best run since 2000, he’s understandably going to be very careful about which job he takes next. So, if the Nuggets want and the experienced Morway, Kroenke will have to really be open to working with him and letting him do the job he’s proven he can do.
The Philadelphia 76ers had high expectations for this season after acquiring All-Star center Andrew Bynum during the offseason. They came up drastically short of those expectations, and DiLeo lost his job as a result.
In hindsight, there are few teams that would have passed on the trade. Bynum was coming off of the best year of his career, appeared to finally get through a season healthy and looked ready to lead a team of his own. The excitement in Philadelphia was as high as it had been since Allen Iverson was in his prime, but Bynum never actually played for the 76ers. In fact, he only practiced a couple of times before being ruled out for the entire season.
DiLeo’s firing was more about the franchise moving in a new direction. According to Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, DiLeo has already had positive discussions with Kroenke and as one of the few people to have discussions with him about the job so far, could be considered a frontrunner. The 57-year-old DiLeo has worked in the NBA for over 10 years, has some coaching experience and will almost certainly get another shot at being a GM at some point in his career.
Harris, the son of long-time NBA head coach Del Harris, has been quietly working behind the scenes in multiple roles with the Golden State Warriors since his stint as the GM of the Milwaukee Bucks came to an end in 2008.
Harris’ tenure in Milwaukee was highlighted by playoff appearances in 2004 and 2006, but when the team steadily declined over the next two seasons, the decision to let Harris go was made. His biggest decisions included drafting Andrew Bogut number one overall in 2005, keeping coveted guard Michael Redd in Milwaukee as a free agent in 2005 and matching the Miami HEAT’s offer sheet for Maurice Williams in 2006.
Harris drew criticism for the contracts he gave out, giving six-year deals to Redd ($91 million), Williams ($52 million), Dan Gadzuric ($36 million) and five-year deals to Bobby Simmons ($47 million) and Charlie Bell ($18.5 million) just to name a few, but as a small-market team the Bucks had to overpay a bit to keep the players that they wanted. It’s not as if they weren’t going to get paid something of near or equal value by other teams had Harris not made those offers.
Harris was basically raised to work in the NBA and has been in the league since 1990. He’s played an active role in the draft for the Warriors, which has been an essential part to their recent rise to prominence.
Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk could also be a target of interest.
The Phoenix Suns already plucked away Ryan McDonough from the Boston Celtics and Zarren could be the next to get lured away. The loss of both would be really tough for the Celtics to recover from, but general managers never get in the way of their employees advancing their careers.
Zarren is in his tenth year with the Celtics. He originally started as an unpaid intern, but as a Harvard graduate it was clear that he was highly overqualified for the role and he unsurprisingly quickly worked his way up the Celtics’ hierarchy. Along with being an assistant general manager, he also serves as the team’s salary cap expert and is their lead in-house counsel for both basketball and business issues.
Zarren is another strong advocate of advanced analytics. Both brilliant and innovative, Zarren could help change the way the Nuggets work if he’s given the freedom to do so.
When the Orlando Magic hired Rob Hennigan as their GM, he cleaned house. The first person he brought in was Perry to be his assistant. Perry previously worked under Joe Dumars with the Detroit Pistons.
Perry did a lot of the legwork in the blockbuster deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers and the J.J. Redick trade at the deadline. The Magic went from being a team in shambles to having a solid young core, financial flexibility and assets galore in a short period of time. Perry could become a hot commodity once we see what the final product of the Magic’s promising rebuilding project is.
Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey makes sure to compliment his staff as much as any GM in the league. Earlier this offseason, his assistant GM Sam Hinkie was hired by the Philadelphia 76ers as their next GM and Gersson Rosas could be the next in line to earn a top spot elsewhere. Rosas, who has been with the team for the last nine years, was recently promoted to executive vice president of basketball operations and he also serves as the GM of the Rockets’ D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
The Vipers have been perennial contenders under Rosas’ watch, winning two championships since 2010, including this year’s. Not only has he made quality signings on a strict budget, but he’s also put together quality coaching staffs.
When Rosas gets the opportunity to be a GM of an NBA team, he should be able to make the transition seamlessly despite being relatively young by GM standards.
One of the first things Dell Demps did after becoming the GM of the New Orleans Pelicans was hire Tim Connelly as his assistant general manager. Demps referred to Connelly as one of the top young talents in the league, specifically mentioning his eye for international talent.
Connelly previously worked with the Washington Wizards as the director of player personnel. He had a hand in scouting, free agent evaluations and salary cap management. The Pelicans shortly entered a rebuilding period upon hiring Connelly, but have put together a nice young core and have lots of future financial flexibility.
Currently employed by the Dallas Mavericks as a scout, who he worked with previously in the late 1990s, Ronzone does not appear to actively be looking for GM opportunities. However, he was mentioned as one of the candidates for the Kings job and has a body of work that is more than deserving of the opportunity.
As a former professional player and coach, Ronzone brings an intimate knowledge of the game from every perspective. His belief that Darko Milicic was the right pick for the Detroit Pistons in 2003 has long been a black mark on his resume, but Ronzone’s track record of scouting international players consists of far more hits than misses. He also helped discover Mehmet Okur and Carlos Delfino in Detroit and in his short time with the Minnesota Timberwolves he helped convince Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic to come stateside.
Along with working with the Mavericks, Ronzone is also a managing director with USA Basketball. In terms of candidates with wide-ranging experiences over the course of a lifetime, few can match what Ronzone brings to the table.
If the Nuggets are looking to re-inject some old blood, Sheppard would be the guy to hire. He’s been with the Washington Wizards for the last 10 years, but he was originally hired by the Nuggets in 1994, serving as the senior director of team services and player relations.
With the Wizards, he has become the vice president of basketball administration. He assists with the day-to-day operations, particularly playing a big role in the NBA Draft. Sheppard is also experienced in cap management, free agent recruiting and organizing training camp.
Considering Kroenke’s insistence to have the final say in all basketball moves, Sheppard jumps out as an ideal candidate due to his experience handling day-to-day operations and his Nuggets roots.
Marks recently completed his 18th season with the Brooklyn Nets, serving as the longest-tenured employee in a franchise that has seen plenty of changeover in recent years. He’s the assistant general manager, helping in all areas including salary cap management, scouting, player personnel, scheduling and day-to-day operations.
The Nets have seen their highs and lows over the last 18 years, but it says a lot that Marks has been the one constant since 1995. Being a GM is just about the only thing Marks hasn’t done in his career as an executive yet, but his time is coming and he’s already well prepared for it.
Wilcox just completed his first year as the assistant general manager of the Atlanta Hawks. He was one of Danny Ferry’s first hires upon becoming the team’s president of basketball operations. Wilcox’s strength is in scouting; he scouted both college and international basketball for the Cavaliers from 2003-2012. He got his start in the early 2000’s as a video coordinator for the Miami Heat and New Orleans Hornets.
He has D-League GM experience as he was in charge for the Canton Charge during his time with the Cavs.
If Kroenke wants to keep the status quo in Denver and not bring in an outside voice, then Bratz will likely end up receiving his second promotion within a year. In November Bratz became the team’s director of player personnel. He’s been with the Nuggets since 2009, helping primarily in the scouting department where the Nuggets have had a lot of success. Bratz has over 13 years of experience working in the front office and also played in the NBA for nine years with the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. Consistency clearly hasn’t been a priority in Denver this offseason, but Bratz is the top in-house candidate now with D’Alessandro in Sacramento.
There’s no word yet on whether the Nuggets want to make their coaching or GM hire first. However, with the 2013 NBA Draft just 11 days away and free agency almost following immediately after, there’s a serious need to get both done in short order.