If new Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri is anything like his predecessors, then the Nuggets are in for some major changes ... sooner than later.
Going back to the dawn of the 1980s, the Nuggets have made seven major changes at the GM level. And each time, the person taking over the position has brought forth drastic changes quickly, for better or worse.
In May 1984, Vince Boryla was hired to replace the legendary Carl Scheer (the father of All-Star Weekend and the Slam Dunk Contest among other brilliant marketing schemes), and within a month of his reign as GM, Boryla traded all-star small forward Kiki Vandeweghe to Portland for Lafayette "Fat" Lever, Calvin Natt, Wayne Cooper, a second round pick (that became Willie White) and a first round pick (that became Blair Rasmussen).
With that one deal, Boryla transformed the Nuggets from a 38-win team to a 52-win team that found itself in the Western Conference Finals in 1985 and would take the Western Conference Champion Rockets to a thrilling double-overtime Game Six in the playoffs' second round the following year. Interestingly, Boryla was relatively tame for the remainder of his GM tenure, making overly conservative draft picks and not swinging any major deals until he resigned in late October 1987.
Taking over for Boryla was Pete Babcock (Boryla's player personnel director), named the team's president and GM. Within just five days under his new title, Babcock swung a great trade shipping Darrell Walker and Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame nominee Mark Alarie to Washington for Michael Adams and Jay Vincent, both solid players. With Adams and Vincent on board, the Nuggets won a franchise-tying best 54 games in 1987-88 and were upset by the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs' second round. The Nuggets newfound success under Babcock would be short lived, however, prompting Babcock to resign in February 1990 as a disastrous new ownership group led by Peter Bynoe and Bertram Lee took hold of the organization.
Several months after Babcock's departure, Bynoe and Lee brought in Bernie Bickerstaff to run the organization. Kicking off the Bickerstaff Administration, Bernie shipped out or didn't re-sign Nuggets legends like Alex English, Fat Lever and head coach Doug Moe and shipped in rookie Chris Jackson (before he became Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf) and veteran Orlando Woolridge. Bickerstaff also quickly hired a new head coach in Paul Westhead. Westhead's loony offensive system would make the Nuggets an NBA laughingstock and the team won an NBA season low 20 games during the 1990-91 while finishing last in league attendance.
After experiencing a miracle playoff run in 1994, Bickerstaff's Nuggets fell apart due to an assortment of tragic injuries and colossally stupid personnel moves (for more on the Bickerstaff Administration, I encourage readers to check out my March 2008 column on the Bernie years). Bickerstaff resigned in February 1997 and former Nuggets assistant coach Allan Bristow took the reins as VP of basketball operations a week later.
Wanting to make his mark out of the gate, Bristow made three trades (none significant) after just one week in office that transformed the roster, and at season's end he canned the entire coaching staff that had been left to clean up Bickerstaff's mess. One year and an embarrassing 11-win season later (yes, the 1997 Broncos won more games than the 1997-98 Nuggets...you can read all about the Bristow Administration here), Bristow was forced to resign and in came former Nugget legend Dan Issel in late March 1998 to ostensibly save the franchise.
Inheriting an already bad situation, Issel made it much worse but he didn't make any big moves as quickly as his predecessors did, other than firing Bristow's entire coaching staff, two of whom (Bill Hanzlik and T.R. Dunn) were former teammates of Issel's, and naming himself as head coach. Issel's reign was a series of unchecked disasters, but it wouldn't be until Stan Kroenke owned the Nuggets for a year that Issel would be forced to share the load, eventually hiring Vandeweghe as the team's GM in August 2001.
Forced to resign around Christmas after issuing an ethnic slur at an Hispanic Nuggets fan, Issel begrudgingly handed the keys over to Vandeweghe. (For a detailed account of the Issel Administration, read this.) Within two months of taking over the Nuggets front office, Vandeweghe made a bold move that sent shockwaves throughout the NBA: he traded Nick Van Exel, Raef LaFrentz, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Avery Johnson (i.e. all of the Nuggets bad contracts) to Dallas for Juwan Howard, Tim Hardaway, Donnell Harvey and a future first round pick. While Vandeweghe's bold move didn't pay off for Denver as quickly as Boryla's did nearly two decades earlier, it would set the stage for the Nuggets future success that we've enjoyed today ... namely, seven straight playoff appearances and a 2008-09 Western Conference Finals run.
But while Vandeweghe made some deft moves, he made others that mortgaged the Nuggets future, such as trading away three first round picks to New Jersey for the oft-injured Kenyon Martin and then signing K-Mart to an onerous max contract. And when Vandeweghe openly discussed his future with the team to the media, Kroenke would have none of it and declined to extend Vandeweghe when his contract was up in May 2006, enabling Mark Warkentien and eventually Rex Chapman to take over as a two-headed GM combo. (For more on the Vandeweghe Administration, read this.)
Before Chapman's arrival, Warkentien pulled a coup by sending two meaningless second round picks to Chicago for J.R. Smith. And later that year, Wark and Rex (as Denver Stiffs readers like to call them) pulled off a big/risky deal by sending away starting point guard Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two first round picks to Philadelphia for Allen Iverson in an attempt to salvage a season sure-to-be wasted thanks to the Madison Square Garden Melee that cost Carmelo Anthony and Smith a number of games due to suspension. Under Wark and Rex, the Nuggets risked morphing into the second coming of Warkentien's "Jail Blazers" as roster members such as Smith, Anthony, Iverson, K-Mart, Ruben Patterson, DerMarr Johnson and Reggie Evans all had nasty on and off-the-court incidents attached to them.
Three straight 50-win seasons later, Wark and Rex's contracts weren't renewed this summer and hired in their place was the likable but relatively unknown Masai Ujiri. Whether Ujiri wants to or not, he may have to pull the trigger on one of the biggest trades in Nuggets history if Carmelo Anthony indeed has no intention of staying in Denver.
In other words, just like his predecessors Ujiri might kick off his Nuggets GM career with a bang.