The Denver Nuggets announced on Tuesday that Warkentien, the vice president of basketball operations who won the award in 2008-09 and whose contract expires Aug. 31, would not be retained. In a major front-office shakeup, the Nuggets also announced vice president of player personnel Rex Chapman, whose contract also expires Aug. 31, would not return.
Of other recent Executive of the Year winners, the Clippers' Elgin Baylor was let go 2 ½ years after winning in 2005-06. Memphis' Jerry West, the 2003-04 winner, retired three years later and Phoenix's Bryan Colangelo, the 2004-05 winner, went to Toronto less than a year later. Among winners for Coach of the Year, six of the past seven were gone from their positions within three years of being handed the trophy.
There had been plenty of speculation either Warkentien or Chapman might not return. But it was a bit of a surprise the Nuggets let both go on the same day.
"We just wanted to go in a different direction and bring in some new ideas," Paul Andrews, executive vice president of Kroenke Sports, which owns the Nuggets, said in an interview with FanHouse. "We certainly wish Mark and Rex the best. ... Due to the sensitivity of the information, I don't think it would be fair to comment (specifically on either Warkentien or Chapman)."
The front-office shakeup comes at a time when the Nuggets have a three-year, $64.7 million contract extension offer on the table for star forward Carmelo Anthony. One would think the importance of Anthony to the team will play in a role in what happens with the front office.
Andrews said he spoke individually by phone Tuesday to Warkentien and Chapman to give the news. He said the team will honor the contracts of both, paying them through the month, but they no longer have any Nuggets duties.
Andrews said the search has begun to replace the two. However, he would not say how many individuals the Nuggets might hire, what their titles might be and what the deadline is to have a new front office in place.
"We're discussing candidates and we've began the search," Andrews said. "We're evaluating the front-office structure. This process is to find the right mix of talent who will improve the executive team."
Warkentien declined comment by text message. Chapman did not immediately return a phone message.
While Warkentien and Chapman were both vice presidents, Warkentien was considered to have more power. He was listed above Chapman on the team directory despite being alphabetically behind him.
Andrews said the two official designated NBA negotiators (for trades and such) had been Warkentien and Josh Kroenke, vice president of team development and son of owner Stan Kroenke. Chapman did not have that designation.
With Warkentien gone, Andrews said he for now takes over the second spot as a designated NBA negotiator. For Nuggets basketball decisions, Andrews said that for now will be handled by the team of Josh Kroenke, coach George Karl and Bret Bearup, a Nuggets advisor who carries much clout with Stan Kroenke.
While it's clear Josh Kroenke will play a bigger role for the Nuggets, Andrews declined to offer specifics on the man in line to take over team ownership due to Stan Kroenke seeking to become the full owner of the St. Louis Rams and not wanting to conflict with NFL rules regarding owning teams in other pro sports. Stan Kroenke also owns the NHL's Colorado Avalanche.
Andrews would not discuss possible candidates to replace Warkentien and Chapman. One could be Washington vice president of basketball administration Tommy Sheppard, who was highly respected as a Nuggets executive before leaving for the Wizards in 2003. Other names having been thrown out are Toronto assistant general manager Masai Ujiri, a former Nuggets scout, and former Phoenix executive David Griffin.
The front-office shakeup comes when the the Nuggets have finished most of their business for next season, their key move being last month signing free-agent forward Al Harrington to a five-year, $33.4 million contract. But there is still one very big item of business hanging over the team.
Anthony has a lucrative three-year contract extension offer on the table that could take him through the 2014-15 season. But Anthony can opt out of his contract and become a free agent June 30, 2011, which is the same day for the deadline to sign an extension.
Warkentien had arrived in Denver in the summer of 2005 as director of player personnel and was promoted to what had been his title a year later. Chapman, a former NBA guard, arrived in Denver in the summer of 2006.
Warkentien had been looking at other possible options prior to Tuesday. FanHouse reported in June he had been granted permission and talked to Phoenix about an executive position.
Warkentien was named Executive of the Year primarily for landing guard Chauncey Billups in a November 2008 trade in which the Nuggets gave up Allen Iverson. Billups helped lead the Nuggets to the 2009 Western Conference finals.
Denver was upset last season in the first round by Utah. But the Nuggets were hampered by Karl having missed the final 1 ½ months due to a form of throat cancer.
Karl has gotten much better and is prepared to return. But he'll be working under a new front office.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson