Ex-Rap assistant GM inherits mess in Denver

FRANK ZICARERLLI, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:22 PM ET

VANCOUVER — More than a few eyebrows were raised this off-season when the Denver Nuggets turned to one-time employee Masai Ujiri to oversee their basketball operations at a time when the franchise was on the cusp of dramatic upheaval.

For four years, Ujiri worked as a scout for the Nuggets before he bolted to Toronto in 2007 to serve as one of Bryan Colangelo’s trusted lieutenants, a right-hand man whose international roots appealed to the Raptors’ global flavour.

Whether Ujiri ever amounts to a top-tier executive is a process that won’t be known until he’s given complete control of the Nuggets.

But as the opening week of NBA training camp gets set to enter its next phase, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the Nuggets are a team in transition, a franchise some are depicting as a club in disarray.

It’s no secret Ujiri wasn’t the first option, and neither, it would seem, was he even the second choice when the Nuggets were seeking a GM.

Carmelo Anthony’s future, the future of head coach George Karl, the impending free agency of Kevin Martin and the likely departure of Chauncey Billups are mere inconveniences when a rare opportunity to be the man comes along, which it did when the Nuggets sought Ujiri.

As early as two years ago, the Nuggets were competing with the Lakers in the Western final, a team that finally bought into playing defence, a deep and talented team that was able to overcome any off-court issue.

But something is amiss in the Mile High City, an uneasiness that threatens to turn the Nuggets into also-rans in as dramatic a fashion as the NBA has seen in recent memory.

Anthony nearly got moved and his days in Denver are numbered, a reality that has become one of the most anticipated off-court storylines in basketball.

Sadly, Ujiri will oversee this change, even though many believe he isn’t exactly calling the shots.

In fact, it’s not really known who is exactly making the decisions in Denver, where the word dysfunction gets thrown around as easily as J.R. Smith gets involved in some off-court trouble.

Martin has aired his feelings, mincing no words when told he would not be receiving any contract extension as he enters the final year of his deal.

K-Mart is one the toughest players in basketball, a guy who’ll push the envelope and intimidate by imposing his physical will.

“I feel me being here and what I’ve done for this (team) . . . (an offer) would have at least been extended, and it wasn’t,” Martin told reporters in Denver.

“I don’t know who made that decision, but the decision was made. And I ain’t happy. They know it. Everybody knows it.”

Martin’s troublesome knee required surgery in June.

No extension has forced Martin to take his time in returning, which sort of reveals both his selfish nature and the sad state of the Nuggets.

“I’m not rushing whatsoever,’’ he said. “The day I come back is the day I come back.

“Think about it: Ain’t nobody in a hurry to give me a contract, so why would I be in a hurry to rush back and risk further injury? Makes all the sense in the world, right? Trust me, I’ve thought about it plenty.”

And Ujiri, no doubt, is asking himself why he decided to return to Denver.

Barkley rips LeBron

No topic is too sensitive for Charles Barkley, the round mound of rebound who makes viewing every pre-game and halftime show a must-see.

Earlier this week, LeBron James admitted that race played a role in his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami.

Appearing on WIP in Philadelphia, Barkley took aim at James, whose popularity has taken a severe hit since his ill-advised decision to appear on ESPN for The Decision on his free agency.

“It’s like watching a movie,’’ began Barkley. “Just when you think it couldn’t get any stupider, it gets more stupid.

“The only criticism I’ve heard about LeBron, and it was my biggest criticism, is that Decision thing was just stupid. It was stupid. The second thing, when they all came out there dancing around on stage, that was silly. That’s the only thing I’ve heard LeBron get criticized about. That has nothing to do with race. That’s what makes this last thing so stupid.”


Videos

Photos