Greetings Magellans, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I'm still in the early stages of my west coast road trip, but the place we're crashing in has internet access so I'm slipping on to get some late night postage for your sick enjoyment. Early road trip note: The Old Fashioned in Madison, Wisconsin is terrific. Get the chicken-fried steak and thank me later.
A few weeks ago, the Denver Nuggets decided not to renew Mark Warkentien, their Vice President of Basketball Operations since 2005. I rarely give individuals credit for the moves of the entire front office resulting in team success. A lot of it is luck by winning the lottery or total misfortune when a guy can't stay healthy. Either way, I view it as a team effort in the same way Tony DiLeo is largely responsible for the draft. Stefanski shouldn't be praised for drafting Evan Turner, nor should he be condemned for Elton Brand's injury problems when, at the time, signing him was the right call providing he was healthy enough in his physical.
But at least some props deserve to be thrown the way of the 57-year-old executive from Indiana. And if Ed Snider patience wears thin with Stefanski early on, I'm throwing my support behind Wark to take the reigns.
I'm sure Jordan will flex his writing muscles backing his boy Kevin Pritchard, so I'll jump the gun on that with Mark Warkentien. Aside from the fact that Wark uses the best scouting resources the internets can buy (everybody's favorite Scott Schroeder), he handled some difficult situations in Denver and came out on the solid end. Getting Allen Iverson for minor pieces (Andre Miller h8r) then flipping him for Chauncey Billups was terrific, picking Chris Andersen from the scrap heap helped in the '08-09 run, and extensions to Nene/Carmelo Anthony/J.R. Smith pushed him towards the Executive of the Year award in 2009.
This article from Denver Stiffs paints a fantastic picture of the guy, especially the back and forth between he and writer Andrew Feinstein at the Pepsi Center. He doesn't seem like the model of amiability, but if he can work with Doug Collins (who isn't going anywhere for at least 3 years regardless of any outcome) towards the future better than Ed can, he should help build a brighter one.
Saddled with the Kenyon Martin contract via a Kiki Vanderwegh sign-and-trade with the Nets which cost them three first-round picks in the process, Warkentien didn't have much wiggle room in the Spring of '09 to maneuver. With Billups and Andersen in the fold, however, the Nugs pushed to a 2 spot in the West and ended up going down to the Kobe's in 6 games in the Conference Finals. A feat in itself, elevating that performance proved impossible, getting ousted in the 4-5 matchup against the Jazz this past season.
The team similarities are similar in terms of (lack of) cap flexibility, young talent, and an old ball coach. What the Sixers don't have is a superstar in Carmelo Anthony. Should Wark come east, he'd try to mold Turner into what Melo was for his Denver team, and build around he and Jrue Holiday, doing his best Billups floor general impression. And while ultimately the team's success, like the Nuggets, would depend on securing a solid big man who can play both ways, I'm confident Warkentien could get us to at least a 4-seed in the East in three years time.
Pritchard went with Greg Oden over Kevin Durant (an argument basketball people will be having for years), loaded up on soft, mediocre talent with only a distant shot at sniffing a title with the current group, and I'm still a huge fan of his. But a guy who has navigated the muddy waters of Bad Contractville and mitigated problems that could have spiraled out of control, Wark has my vote to succeed Stefanski should things get ugly.
Jordan -- game on.