Tag Archives: Greg Sherman

Coffee with Josh Kroenke

Josh Kroenke is a busy guy. At 33, he’s the top executive of both the Nuggets and Avalanche and, of course, the son of their owner, E. Stanley Kroenke. He’s also coming off a year in which he put his stamp on both franchises, naming new front office executives (Tim Connelly and Joe Sakic) and new head coaches (Patrick Roy and Brian Shaw). He joined me for a cup of joe this morning at a Starbucks not far from his office at the Pepsi Center.

Q: You reset both organizations last year, front office and coaching. Let’s start with the hockey team. How do you think it’s going so far? How do you think, in particular, Joe is transitioning into his new role?

A: I think Joe’s doing a wonderful job. Joe is a great communicator. Obviously, I think that Patrick has done a very good job as well. I think everybody is doing a really good job in their new roles. It’s good to see the cohesion that the organization has. Top to bottom, there’s communication at all different levels, and if someone is doing something that someone else thinks they can do better, or they think they can do differently, no one is afraid to communicate about it. And I think that’s great.

Q: Were you surprised at how fast they got out of the gate?

A: I think we all were. I think that’s a credit to Patrick, but most important that’s a credit to the players. It’s been a rough few years, and we knew when we reset it a few years ago, going young, it was going to take a few years to kind of come together. But I think as fast as it’s come together over these past few months, it’s been great to see, because we knew we had some young talent there. It was just a matter of pointing it in the right direction.

Q: How long did you think it was going to take to be a playoff team?

A: I wasn’t sure, but I was hoping that we had the right guys in charge, and I think with Patrick and Joe, and Greg [Sherman] as well, I think we do. I think that they’re all doing a great job and I think that with the youngsters, seeing everyone buy in, and then the veterans we have on the squad as well, it’s been really rewarding for me to see how quickly they’ve turned it around. It’s a lot of fun for me to be a part of.

Q: Was the Elway model part of your thinking when you decided to go with Joe?

A: I don’t know John very well, but I’ve had the privilege to kind of talk to him here and there and pick his brain a little bit. With guys like John and Joe, guys that have competed so long in their respective sports, and with the kind of people they are, I think it lends very well to leading an organization like they do. I think Joe and John know each other a little bit. I don’t know how well they know each other. But I know that Joe respects John, obviously. As far as the John Elway model, I didn’t look into it too much. I looked at making sure we got the right guy for the job.

Q: Traditionally it sort of defies history because the history of great players as coaches or GMs isn’t great. And yet it seems as though in this town anyway there are now two models where it seems to be working pretty well. Did you go into that, in terms of the history of it?

A: You know, I didn’t go into it too much. I wanted to make sure we had the right people and the right personalities for the job. At the end of the day, you can’t be afraid to put the time in and really put the work in. I think that John and Joe are both spectacular examples of that. Knowing Joe and knowing John a little bit, I know they take what they do very seriously and they’re both winners and they want to win. And until they get to that point, I know that neither of them are happy.

Q: You came to your positions with a lot more background in basketball than hockey. How has your personal evolution gone with the game of hockey?

A: You know, it’s been a lot of fun. I really enjoy the game. To understand it on a level that I do now as opposed to where I was when I first moved to Denver is night and day. It’s a great game. I can see why so many people love it and so many guys want to get into it at a young age. It’s a true team sport. You meet a lot of great people. Throughout the league, in all these organizations that I’ve had the privilege of being around, it’s wonderful people. Very humble people and a lot of hard workers and they love the game just as much as John loves football or Brian Shaw loves basketball. It’s a great sport to be a part of. The individual stars are going to play well, but it’s all about the hockey assist — who can set up their man and who can set up their teammates. I think it’s probably my favorite sport to attend in person. Sitting down on the glass of an NHL game is an unbelievable experience.

Q: What’s been your approach to how close or distant you want to stay from the players?

A: That’s evolved over time. Particularly on the basketball side, when I moved here, I knew a lot of the guys. I played against them. I played with Linas Kleiza in college. That’s kind of evolved over time from a peer-to-peer relationship and now that I’m in kind of a supervisor role in both organizations, I’m still close with the guys, I like to have a relationship with the guys, I think that’s important that they feel that on both teams. Went on a hockey road trip earlier this year. That was so much fun. I went on the early season trip to Toronto and Boston and it was great. Great to be around the guys. At the end of the day it goes a long ways; they know that I’m behind them as well.

Q: Keeping in mind the Daniel Snyder story in Washington, where the owner’s relationship with star players has been a problem for coaches, as an owner in roughly the same age bracket as the players, is there any issue there for you?

A: The locker room is the coaches’ domain. I don’t want to interfere with that at all. Me having a relationship with some of the players on the periphery I don’t think is a problem, and if it ever was a problem I would hope that the coaches would come address it to me right away because I don’t ever want to interfere with anything that they’re trying to do.

Q: You’ve got a member of the Swedish Olympic team [Gabriel Landeskog], a member of the Russian Olympic team [Semyon Varlamov], a member of the Canadian Olympic team [Matt Duchene] and a member of the U.S. Olympic team [Paul Stastny]. Were you disappointed Erik Johnson didn’t make the U.S. team?

A: I was disappointed EJ didn’t make it. I was hoping that Jan Hejda would get a chance at the Czech Republic team. There’s so many different nationalities; it’s one of the cool things about hockey is it brings together people from all over the world. I was hoping that as many of our guys were going to get a shot as they could, but there were a few guys I was hoping were going to get included but didn’t.

Q: So let’s switch gears and talk about the Nuggets. The last time I heard you talk about the state of the team was last year when you did a series of press conferences about organizational changes and free agency, so let’s go back to that point and let me ask you first about the Andre Iguodala deal. When you look back on that, were you disappointed at the time with the outcome? Were you surprised?

A: I was more disappointed than I was surprised. We’d done our diligence throughout the year and throughout free agency. We kind of knew there was a chance that he would come back and a chance that he wouldn’t. In the transition period, Tim Connelly didn’t have to hit the ground running, he had to hit the ground in a full sprint. We were able to have good conversations with Andre and his representation. Ultimately, Andre felt it was best for him to go elsewhere. That’s really all I can say about it. He plays for another team now and we’re looking forward.

Q: So how do you feel about the moves that you made after that and the roster that you have now?

A: I feel pretty good. Andre waited several days into free agency to make his decision and he was our No. 1 priority. We didn’t have any cap space to really use. We were going to re-sign Andre with Bird rights. So there was a different evaluation of players. Looking at our current roster, even without Andre, we felt we were a playoff team. So we wanted to try and bolster our bench and also provide value signings to where we were flexible moving forward.

Q: And do you still feel that way? Do you still feel like you’re a playoff team?

A: I do. The hard part that comes with professional sports and sports in general is you can’t make an honest assessment until you’re healthy and it’s been a rough year in that regard. Obviously, without Gallo [Danilo Gallinari] and without JaVale [McGee], we don’t know really what we have. I think that our guys have done a wonderful job of stepping up to the plate without a full roster.

Q: Speaking of JaVale, I think it’s fair to say there was a widespread perception that you and the organization wanted JaVale to play more and that contributed to the trade of Kosta Koufos. Is that a fair assessment?

A: I don’t know if it’s completely a fair assessment. I think we’re always looking at ways to improve our team. Obviously, with the salary that JaVale commands you hope that you get a lot of production out of it, but we don’t ever try to dictate who plays or who doesn’t play. We want to let the coach set the rotation and if he feels that he’s going to win more games with somebody else, then by all means, we should go with somebody else. But JaVale is a talented guy and I think hopefully with more playing time he gets better, but obviously we’ll never know until he gets healthy.

Q: Do you see him as an enigma as a lot of NBA observers do?

A: He’s an interesting personality. He’s much more intelligent than a lot of people give him credit for. I’ve had the privilege of being around a lot of very intelligent people over the course of my life and sometimes the most intelligent people are the hardest ones to kind of read. And JaVale seems to be that way. I think that the next year or two or three of his career will obviously be very telling — what he wants to do and how he wants to get to the level he wants to be as a player.

Q: With respect to Gallo, there have been a lot of different estimates along the way of when he might be ready. Some of them were a lot earlier than now. Do you have any feel for when he might be back?

A: You know, obviously we want to get Gallo back as soon as we can, but with an injury like that, you never want to rush it. So Gallo is on Gallo’s time frame. He’s been working his tail off on a daily basis with [strength coach] Steve Hess, [trainer] Jim Gillen and our entire training staff. We have a physical therapist on staff now, starting this year, and I know that Gallo and some of the guys are very pleased with the exercises that he’s provided. With an ACL, you’ve just got to be careful. Derrick Rose sat out the entire year last year to make sure he was healthy. We don’t want to rush Gallo back, but obviously, he’s a huge part of our team.

Q: So no specific ETA?

A: No, I can’t give you a specific one. I would love to be able to, but I can’t because I would hate to provide the wrong information.

Q: What did you make of the last week or so, with the losing streak and the turmoil surrounding Andre Miller?

A: You know, I knew there was going to be some ups and downs, and sometimes some of that stuff just has to work itself to the surface. With ups and downs and the transition with the coaching, Andre was somebody that, he thrives in an up-and-down type of pace, but Andre is getting older and we’re kind of in a transition period where we had lost several games in a row and I think Brian was trying different things out. I respect Andre immensely and I respect Brian immensely and I think it was just one of those emotional things that gets the best of people at the time and I don’t anticipate any issues moving forward.

Q: Looking back, did you think that perhaps bringing in Nate Robinson and creating a three point guard situation might at some point have to settle out?

A: I’ll leave that up to Brian and the coaches to figure out. With Nate, I think the idea that Tim and Brian discussed was to provide some scoring punch, and obviously Nate does that here and there. It was a transition for everybody in the organization, let alone the guys that were coming in from a different team. Nate’s had his ups and downs but he’s a fiery competitor and somebody that we hope can provide some additional benefit to us down the road. One thing I thought that we lost a little bit last year was at certain times throughout the year we didn’t look as tough as we needed to be, and Nate’s a tough guy.

Q: You’re about middle of the pack offensively in terms of scoring and in terms of efficiency. Middle of the pack defensively in terms of efficiency. What do you think of the style of play at this point?

A: As far as the style’s concerned, I think we’re doing just fine. I think Brian’s going to get better over time as he continues to experiment with different things that he thinks are best for our team and best for our personnel. We started off kind of slower earlier in the year, and I think that was by design. Then I think we got into running more and more, and our pace continued to improve. With the injuries we just don’t exactly know how everything is going to shake out until we get healthy because we have some talented guys that aren’t playing right now.

I think with a new system and a fresh idea with some of the guys that are kind of entering their defining years on what’s going to happen with them and their careers, it could be all over the place. I don’t know how to exactly answer your question because we’ve done a few different things throughout the year so far. We started off slow and now we’ve kind of sped it up a little bit. We want to get out and run. We’re at the mile-high. That was one of the things that Tim and I talked about initially when I interviewed him, was we like to play fast here. We want to get out and go and take advantage of our natural resources.

Q: It looks like you’re playing about as fast as last year, but your shooting percentage is about four points below where it was last year. Do you think that’s about the people or the mix?

A: I think it’s a combination of everything. We started off 0-3. We played a really difficult game in Sacramento. It was such an emotional night for the city, that was going to be a tough one to win. And then we came back and we got thumped by Portland who, it turns out, is pretty good. And then we had to play San Antonio, who we also know is pretty good. Then we went on a little run, we won seven or eight in a row, and then we were kind of here and there, here and there, and then we lost seven or eight in a row. There’s going to be ups and downs. I think the most difficult part of sports, one is injuries and two is staying patient with the team and the people that you have. Everybody is so competitive and they want to win, but you have to have a much bigger picture in your mind over a period of years. I think we’re right about where I thought we’d be. I think we’re right where we were last year at this time, almost.

Q: I think Brian had it flipped. He said after the win over Memphis that you were right where you were a year ago after 32 games, at 15-17. I think you were 17-15 last year, and you were about to go on that run where you won 16 out of 19 or something.

A: I knew we were right around where we were. But there’s going to be ups and downs. Ultimately, I don’t look for the big swings. I look for a growth chart that has its ups and downs but is steadily improving.

Q: More than a few fans think that a bunch of these guys are pretty much your average, replacement-level NBA players. Whether it’s Hickson or Arthur or Foye or Nate — journeymen, guys who have been around. So when you talk about the people who are about to define who they’re going to be as players, who are you talking about?

A: We have several of those guys, guys in their mid-20s really starting to show if they’re going to take a leap or if they’re going to remain who they are, I think. Those are big-time growth years as a person, and you figure out who you are. I think we have several guys. You can just look at our roster and go down, look at the ages, and we have several guys that are in that time frame. And there’s a couple guys we think have a chance to be pretty doggone good and there’s a few guys we’re still waiting to see who they are and who they want to be.

Q: You don’t want to talk about specific names, I take it?

A: No, but you can look at the roster and look at the ages. We have a lot of guys that are clumped together along with one or two guys, like Randy and Nate and Andre, that are a little bit older. And then we have a couple guys that are younger. But then there’s a stack of guys that are all around the same age there, within a few years of each other.

Q: What’s fair to expect from Ty Lawson? I think there’s some frustration that he looks so good sometimes and then the rest of the time, not so good.

A: You know, Ty’s been through a lot here in Denver. He was somebody we had our sights on in the draft, we were able to get a hold of him through a trade and he’s developed here the whole way. I think Ty has unbelievable potential. I think he can be one of the best guards in the league. It’s a matter of him getting comfortable with the offense and comfortable with himself being an alpha like that. Is he a true alpha? I don’t know. Ty’s as good as he wants to be, I think. He has that type of talent.

Q: If you were talking directly to your fans and addressing the perception that you’ve taken a step back, what would you say?

A: I addressed the team earlier this year and I said, ‘Sometimes, going to a place you’re unfamiliar with can lead you to a place you’ve never been before.’ I think that’s kind of the general message that I tell myself. Sometimes you have to take a slight step back to take a bigger step forward.

With the coaching change, I’m more than happy with Brian. I think he’s doing a great job. George [Karl] did an unbelievable job when he was here. I have the utmost respect for him. I try to tell people how difficult a summer it was for me, but I don’t know if anybody really understands. I think it’s a bright future. We have a lot of very good players, we have a lot of flexibility and I’m really excited. I think it’s going to be a great thing for us moving forward. I understand the hesitation because we had such a great season last year, but I’m really excited about the future.

Ryan O’Reilly versus the Keystone Kops

Ryan O’Reilly’s gap-toothed grin made him look like a kid . . .

a) . . . in a candy store.

b) . . . on Christmas morning.

c) . . . who had just spanked an accountant in a numbers game.

d) all of the above.

Take your pick. There is no wrong answer.

“Is he the happiest man on Planet Earth currently?” Altitude TV analyst Mark Rycroft asked after O’Reilly took a minute between the first two periods of today’s game at Columbus, his first in the NHL this season, to do a quick TV interview with game analyst Peter McNab.

“It feels great,” O’Reilly said. “It’s a little quick right now. It definitely takes some adjustment.”

As an organization, the Avalanche clearly believes in accounting. Its two general managers since godfather Pierre Lacroix gave up the title — Francois Giguere and Greg Sherman — are both accountants by trade. So the team’s difficulty competing in the salary cap era is not for lack of ability to do the math.

And yet the Avs utterly misjudged the state of financial play in the O’Reilly contract dispute. They seemed to relish making a power play that gave O’Reilly two choices: sign for their number or sit out the season.

A month and a half into the season, along comes Calgary with a two-year, $10 million offer sheet. The Avs were clearly miffed that another franchise handed power back to O’Reilly.┬áIn a league where one owner awarded two 13-year contracts simultaneously, the notion that owners will do things contrary to their collective business interests in order to win is not exactly novel.

“If that’s the way they want to do their business, that’s their right,” Sherman sniffed at a rare media availability to confirm Colorado had matched Calgary’s offer.

The Avs could have signed O’Reilly for that number anytime. It was the O’Reilly camp’s proposal for a $5 million annual average that Avalanche management found so objectionable. Its surrogates in the media pointed to Matt Duchene’s two-year, $7 million deal and said paying O’Reilly more than his 2009 draft classmate would turn the team’s salary structure upside down. While it’s true that O’Reilly was the better player last season, when Duchene was hurt, it’s not likely to be true very often.

And yet, confronted by a Calgary offer sheet with terms slightly more onerous than O’Reilly had requested — the $6.5 million second-year salary makes that the qualifying offer to keep O’Reilly’s rights after next season — the Avs took only a few hours of the seven-day window to match the offer.

So the net effect of the Avs’ strategy was to drive a wedge between O’Reilly and the front office, remove him from 40 percent of the lockout-shortened season — and then give him everything he was asking for months ago.

The Avs’ only excuse for this bungle is their disappointment that the Flames would breach owner etiquette by making an offer to a restricted free agent and ruining Colorado’s financial power play. This would suggest an informal agreement among owners not to exercise their rights under the collective bargaining agreement to make such offers. That, in turn, sounds a bit like collusion among the owners.

It would behoove Avalanche management to read up on the collusion cases between baseball and its players’ union in the 1980s. Donald Fehr, then president of the Major League Baseball Players Association and now executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association, surely remembers them quite well.

During a five-minute media availability at his locker after reporting to the Avs on Saturday, O’Reilly mentioned several times how happy he was to be back on the ice and back with the fellas. He did not mention the organization.

“I was just sitting at home, got a call from an agent that an offer sheet was available,” he said. “And I wanted to play hockey. So, obviously, I signed it. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought it would probably take a week or so, but for me it was over quickly. I’m just so excited now to be playing hockey and be back with these guys.”

As if the episode didn’t already have a Keystone Kops feel, Chris Johnston of Rogers SportsNet reported that because O’Reilly had played two pro games in Russia after the NHL season finally began, he would be subject to waivers if any team other than Colorado signed him. In other words, had the Avs elected not to match, Calgary might have surrendered first- and third-round draft picks and then watched Columbus, the NHL’s worst team, snatch O’Reilly off the waiver wire.

Amid much behind-covering over the weekend, Calgary general manager Jay Feaster insisted the Flames had done their due diligence on the applicable provision in the new collective bargaining agreement and insisted they had a case. He also acknowledged that the club’s interpretation was “different than the NHL’s current interpretation,” meaning the doomsday scenario could very well have been the league ruling.

Evidently trying to help prevent one of its GMs from looking sillier than he already did, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly declared the question moot after the Avs matched and added the league would have nothing further to say about it.

When I asked O’Reilly about Johnston’s report, he artfully skated around the question.

“I had no idea, and in that situation, I didn’t know,” he said. “I just accepted the offer sheet. I can’t control the past. I don’t know what would have happened. But I’m just glad to be back here with these guys.”

Calgary’s decision to hit Colorado with the offer sheet the day of a game between the teams added yet another subject for the most common question of the day: “Did they do that on purpose?”

Sherman would not be specific about the source of his pique, other than the vague suggestion that making an offer to another team’s restricted free agent is bad form. When I asked coach Joe Sacco if it made the game a little strange — the Avs came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Flames 5-4 with three third-period goals — he replied carefully.

“I guess a little bit, yeah,” he said. “You look at it and they’re your opponent that night and a team that you’re battling with. I would have thought maybe that would give us a little bit extra incentive to play even harder, to play even better. But that’s business. That’s the way it goes in this league here.

“I knew the news (about the Avs matching) right before the puck dropped. Our players didn’t. They weren’t aware of that before the puck dropped. So our focus was strictly on that Calgary game. But it did seem a little odd that you were playing a team that, that day they made that offer to him and you could lose him in the next seven days. But lucky for us, he’s not. He’s here with us.”

Equally strange, it’s possible that O’Reilly and Calgary just saved Sherman’s job. Before the offer sheet, the Avs sat near the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Injuries, especially to captain Gabe Landeskog, had hurt, but so had the absence of O’Reilly, the club’s leading scorer with 55 points last season.

If the Avs miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season, a watch would commence on the status of both Sherman and Sacco, especially with Joe Sakic currently in training in the front office. The Avs cannot have missed the success that fellow Denver playing legend John Elway has enjoyed while running the Broncos. Elway had considerably more experience, having run an arena league team, but one playoff appearance in five years for the once-proud Avs might be enough to hasten Sakic’s learning curve.

Now, O’Reilly returns just as Landeskog does. With injured defensemen Erik Johnson and Ryan Wilson accompanying the team on its current trip, their return could be imminent as well. If this injection of talent allows the Avs to sneak into the playoff bracket, it might buy Sherman some more time.

The NHL’s official stats will not reflect O’Reilly’s first goal upon his return. It went into his own net in the third period at Columbus today. He was trying to cut off a pass through the crease; instead replays appeared to show that he deflected the puck past Semyon Varlamov into the Colorado net. It was the Blue Jackets’ only goal of regulation and sent the game into overtime, where they scored again and won, 2-1. McNab called it the Avs’ worst effort of the season.

Both the Avs and Flames manage to come out of the O’Reilly episode looking vaguely incompetent. The qualifying offer now required of the Avs to keep their rights to O’Reilly 16 months from now will be especially problematic because they’ll be negotiating new deals with Duchene and Landeskog at the same time.

Of course, if the Avs don’t get better in a hurry, they may be represented by new front office executives by then.