Nuggets' Bret Bearup Gone From Team, Sort Of
Denver's secret agent man will still work the phones, still remain in close contact with the Nuggets' ultimate voice, former owner Stan Kroenke, and likely still be consulted in hushed tones from on high when it comes time for real action on the basketball front. Yes, it's true, as reported by Yahoo! Sports, that Bearup (pictured in gray shirt) was pushed out of basketball operations by new vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri. But in a development that matters mostly because of the dynamics in play that relate to an eventual Carmelo Anthony trade, don't think for a minute that this is Bearup's end.
"(Ujiri) might have won the battle, but I'm not sure about the war," said one source close to the situation.
Here's the best part of Bearup's public purging: sources say he was given a raise by Kroenke to ease the pain of this process. So just in case you thought this was Bearup's worst day on the job, think again.
His offices have indeed been moved out of basketball operations and league executives have been told to deal only with Ujiri and 30-year-old owner and team president Josh Kroenke, but Bearup -- who is now being dubbed a consultant to Stan Kroenke, on business matters -- is not gone entirely. There are no plans to tap his phone or track his operating ways, leaving him free to explore and advise and consult in ways that are so hard to confine because they're hard to define.
Bearup, as one source described it, "walks between raindrops" in the eyes of the elder Kroenke, who recently had to give up ownership to his son because of his purchase of the St. Louis Rams but whose cornerstone status remains. Another described Bearup as "William Wesley before William Wesley" in reference to the infamous behind-the-scenes puppet master so closely tied to LeBron James, with the point being that these sort of operators don't just fade to black. And while Ujiri, the former Toronto assistant general manager and Nuggets scout, may have used his friends in the league office to cast shadows on Bearup that led to this development, sources insist that won't change the fact that his voice will always be heard.
That wasn't the case in late September, though, when Bearup constructed the four-team deal that would've sent Anthony to New Jersey and Ujiri instead opted to bide his time and explore other options. Those talks created no shortage of acrimony from involved parties with the Nets, Utah and Charlotte, with accusations from all around that the media leaks that led to widespread coverage sprouted from the Nuggets' end and complaints that the situation simply wasn't handled professionally. The pressure applied during that saga might have been the breaking point, with Ujiri clearly miffed at the chaos it created in the perception game.
And how's this for irony? This staged divorce is partly the product of the rare instance where Stan Kroenke didn't listen to Bearup. He told him to hire David Griffin for this job, lining up the former Phoenix executive (who's now with Cleveland) not long after former front-office men Mark Warkentien (sitting next to Bearup above) and Rex Chapman were shown the door. But the offer made to Griffin simply wasn't close to industry standard for a general manager position (sources said it was less than $500,000 at the time), so Griffin turned it down and Ujiri eventually became the pick.
Less than three months into the job, Ujiri is clearly fighting for a much bigger piece of the pie than most assumed could be his and, without question, earning respect from some around the league for doing so. He has succeeded in changing this confusing Nuggets game, if not ending it. And just to add onto the intrigue, there are now rumblings that George Karl could be his next target, as sources say Ujiri has been privately grumbling about the veteran coach under whom he previously worked and would prefer to handpick his own courtside caller somewhere down the line rather than pursue the contract extension Karl has made it clear he wants.
Meanwhile, Bearup will be up in the glass offices with the lights on low, gone but nowhere near forgotten.
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