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Nuggets president Josh Kroenke says team not afraid to pay luxury tax

Christian Clark Avatar
June 7, 2018

The Denver Nuggets unveiled new uniforms Wednesday. When the black curtains covering the mannequins finally came off during halftime of Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the group gathered at Dairy Block in LoDo got a look at some fresh colors and familiar numbers: 14, 27 and 15.

It was no coincidence that the Nuggets’ rebranding effort featured jerseys belonging to Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. After years of painful rebuilding, the Nuggets are hoping that 23-and-under group can help them finally get back into the postseason.

“Gary, Jamal and Nikola in particular have seen all the new looks,” Nuggets president Josh Kroenke said. “They’re really excited to get back next fall.”

Kroenke was in Denver’s locker room April 12 in Minnesota, the night the Nuggets fell to the Timberwolves in overtime of the do-or-die regular-season finale. The Nuggets fell inches short of snapping a five-season playoff drought. Coming that close left an imprint on all of them.

“I think I can sit here and look at you guys and say without an injury or two, I think we’re firmly the three seed in the West and we’ve won 50 games,” Kroenke lamented.

Courtesy of Denver Nuggets

In a brief question-and-answer session, Kroenke discussed the disappointment of narrowly missing out on the playoffs two years in a row, the critical offseason his team is facing and his three franchise cornerstones. Here is the back and forth, which has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: How excited are you to roll out these uniforms next season? 

Kroenke: Incredibly excited. It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been working on this for a few years now, building up to this moment. It’s really exciting to have a fresh looking feel with a relatively young team coming up, one that we think is going to get a lot better over the summer through the draft and free agency. We’re really excited for these guys to have a fresh look for this city.

Q: One of the uniforms you put out on social media had Jokic’s name on the back. How important is it for you guys to keep him here a long time? 

Kroenke: Jok is a big part of what we’re doing. He knows that. We’ve had some great dialogue with him and his representation so far. Nikola knows that no matter what’s going on inside or outside of our walls we want him to be a part of our organization for a very long time.

Q: This is one of the tricker summers you’ve had in a long time financially. In your role, how are you approaching it? 

Kroenke: We had a couple opportunities to shed salary over the last year or so, and for us, it’s always been about basketball. We’ve paid the tax before. I don’t think we’re afraid to do it again. I think with the way our team is going, it would be very shortsighted to make a move right now with the young bunch we’ve accumulated so far for financial reasons. We’re going to keep building. We’re going to keep building this group. We’re going to see what opportunities come up in the draft and free agency in the next few weeks.

Q: Talking to coach Malone and (president of basketball operations) Tim (Connelly) right after the season, they said they were happy with the progress y’all have made, but it’s time to make the playoffs next year and take that next step. Is that kind of where you’re at too? 

Kroenke: Without a doubt. Like I said, we’re going to see how it evolves over the next few weeks with the draft and free agency. The playoffs, we felt we should’ve been there this past season but also the year prior. We fell one game short one game this year, but we also fell one game short a year ago. These guys have a pretty sizable chip on their shoulders. We’re sitting here with a narrative where we just missed out. But I’m also very confident with this group. I think I can sit here and look at you guys and say without an injury or two, I think we’re firmly the three seed in the West and we’ve won 50 games. That’s with the group that we have without any internal improvement, without any outside additions. We’re very confident with the group that we have. They’re hard workers. They’re good people.

Q: Wilson Chandler has a pretty big decision at the end of the month (regarding his player option). Have there been conversations with him or his camp so far? 

Kroenke: Tim is handling all that along with (general manager) Arturas (Karnisovas). I know we’ve had some positive conversations with him for the last several months. Wilson has been with us a number of years now. I know him very well. He’s a wonderful guy. He’s an absolute sweetheart of a person. We’ll see what decision he comes to. No matter what decision he decides he’s earned that right as a player. Without us or with us, he knows we have his back.

Q: You were in Minnesota after game 82. What was your prevailing feeling? 

Kroenke: Disappointment. I think we — Tim, Arturas, coach Malone and I — were also very encouraged by certain facets of what was going on on the court as the big moments unfolded. What you saw was a couple of guys —  I’ll name Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, some of our younger players who we hope to keep around here for a long time — they didn’t shy away from the moment. They actively sought out that moment. To have guys like that on our team is only going to benefit us going forward when the big moments do come in the playoffs.

Q: Like you just mentioned, Nikola was really good in that Minnesota game as well as that last month. Does that give you confidence that this guy can be your franchise cornerstone for the next couple of years? 

Kroenke: Very much so. The defense was keyed in on him. They did a good job of getting under his skin late. Nikola got rolling in the third quarter. As Nikola evolves as a player, he’s going to have to understand how difficult it is to be keyed in on at the professional level especially as the games are very meaningful like they were in game 82. We went 82 games, 48 minutes, and it still wasn’t enough. We had to go an extra five minutes. To see Nikola out there and embracing the moment but be knocked back a bit only gives me more excitement because I think he’ll learn from it. As Nikola continues to get in better shape and grows into his body, I think the sky’s the limit for him.

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