Nuggets make changes in front office

Updated: August 19, 2010, 9:08 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets are shaking up their front office.

The team declined Tuesday to extend the contracts of executives Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman. Warkentien was the league's executive of the year two seasons ago when the Nuggets reached the Western Conference finals.

"Mark and Rex have played important roles in our success over the past several seasons," Kroenke Sports executive vice president Paul Andrews said in a release. "However, after meeting with both individually in recent weeks, we decided it would be best for all parties to go their separate ways."

Warkentien declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.

Masai Ujiri, the Toronto Raptors' assistant general manager, is a strong candidate to re-join the Nuggets' front office now, league sources told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard.

Ujiri was the Nuggets' director of scouting for four years before joining the Raptors in 2007. Other candidates include Tommy Sheppard, vice president of basketball administration for the Washington Wizards, and David Griffin, the former senior vice president of basketball operations for the Phoenix Suns.

Like Ujiri, Sheppard was once a Nuggets employee, working in team services and player relations from 1994 from 2003.

The Nuggets were 42-21 last season when they lost coach George Karl to cancer treatment and Kenyon Martin to another knee injury in March. They faded down the stretch under acting coach Adrian Dantley and fell to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs.

The Nuggets said they would restructure the front office, which could mean a bigger role for Josh Kroenke, the son of owner Stan Kroenke.

Stan Kroenke said this summer that he planned to keep ownership of the Colorado Avalanche and the Nuggets in his family if he gains full control of the NFL's St. Louis Rams.

The billionaire owns 40 percent of the Rams and is trying to acquire the rest, but NFL rules prohibit owners from also owning clubs in the NBA, NHL or Major League Baseball.

The Denver Post reported earlier this year that Kroenke plans to transfer some or all of the Nuggets to his 30-year-old son Josh, the Nuggets' vice president of team development. A transfer would have to be approved by the NBA's board of governors.

Stan Kroenke also owns 29.9 percent of Arsenal, a soccer team in the English Premier League.

Warkentien was named the vice president of basketball operations nearly four years ago and made several integral moves to position the Nuggets as a power in the West.

He was the architect of the deal that sent fading star Allen Iverson and his big contract to the Detroit Pistons for All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups in November 2008. The move sparked Denver's franchise-tying 54-win regular season and the Nuggets' first playoff series win in 15 years.

The Nuggets couldn't follow it up last season as Dantley went 11-8 in place of Karl, who was recovering from a rigorous treatment of chemotherapy and radiation for throat cancer.

This summer, the Nuggets have been trying to lock up All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, putting a three-year, $65 million offer on the table to extend Anthony's contract. He's due to make about $17 million next season, after which he can opt out.

If he declines the extension, the Nuggets might have to consider trading Anthony, who would be the headliner of the 2011 free-agent class.

Chapman has served as vice president of player personnel since September 2006. He was a standout player at the University of Kentucky for two seasons before leaving for the NBA. The eighth overall pick by the expansion Charlotte Hornets in 1988, Chapman bounced around the league for 12 seasons.

Information from ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard and The Associated Press was used in this report.