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Monday, 11 February 2013 21:49

Tale of two teams: Avs/Nuggets

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"To deny them is not only baffling, but counterintuitive to increasing your brand. Mile High Hockey, the fine Avs blog is an SB Nation site but still doesn't have access. SB Nation, also home to Denver Stiffs, is a major media source at this point, so the Avs decision to not include a blog like this now seems spiteful rather than pragmatic."

It's the tale of two teams. Owned by the same family yet they couldn't be any different. One is a freewheeling underachiever with a young GM willing to do what it takes to overcome the restrictions of a super star driven sport. The other is a former champion, still trying to cope with a post salary cap world - its dinosaur management living in a constant state of bitter paranoia, gathering dust instead of more Stanley Cups. You'd think the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche would be in lockstep with how their franchises are run, but they are so vastly different with the approach to its players, media and fans, it seems like they are owned by two entirely different sets of people. And as the Nuggets continue to enjoy success against all odds, the Avalanche are slipping further and further into obscurity because of the Kroenke family’s decision to be more involved with one franchise while letting the other spiral further out of control.

It's like if one company owned two apartment buildings: one is a vibrant piece of architecture with full occupancy, the other not so much. The building manager of the first one is always there making improvements, painting walls and picking up trash. While the other building is a hellish dump on autopilot: graffiti all over the walls, broken windows and a meth lab in apartment 2C. If you lived there, it wouldn't be for long and you'd lament why the owner would leave one in such disarray while investing so richly in the other. This ladies and gentlemen, is the nauseating dichotomy of Kroenke Sports Enterprises.

 The Kroenkes have been accused of this before, and Josh Kroenke addressed it by saying they placed equal value on both teams. This may be true in their minds but while they've bolstered the Nuggets by taking an active interest the team, they threw money at the problem of the Avalanche and entrusted it to people who, once successful, are now circling the drain as NHL executives. All while doing it with the charm and panache of a set of barbeque tongs. The Kroenkes have done the old “set it and forget it” with the Avs and its going sour like buttermilk in the sun. 

 The Nuggets have the yearly struggle of being a small market NBA team that will probably never win a championship - whether through David Stern's backroom carte blanche granted to his superstars or because those same superstars don't want to play in a place like Denver. The Nuggets face an uphill battle simply because they are the Denver Nuggets. But the Kroenkes did well in giving GM Masai Ujiri a green light to try and assemble a winning team through trades and the flexibility to pay players he felt they needed to succeed. And despite having the cards stacked against them in the crooked world of the NBA, Ujiri has put together a solid squad that continues to surprise fans of the team and the NBA community alike.

The Avs are completely different story. Having won two Stanley Cups in the free-love era of a salary cap-less NHL, the team went into a tail spin after the cap was imposed and has been struggling to get off the mat ever since. And the one constant with the Avs since the team arrived in Denver? Pierre Lacroix hasn’t strayed too far from the action. Lacroix may have been considered a genius when he could spend money like Honey Boo-boo's parents after a big pageant win, but now that old man Kroenke has put a lock on the cash drawer, he's no better than any armchair hockey GM spouting advice between sips of Molson.

Lacroix, with his head deep in the sand, is also considerably different from the Nugs in how he deals with players. The Nuggets were cordial and kept thing civil with Carmelo Anthony as he finished his sentence in Denver while Ujiri got as much as he could for him. The Avs are the polar opposite in that if a player even looks at his paycheck sideways, they trade him out of spite. Avs fans can point to several instances where players were dumped at the first sign of discontent but instead of understanding it’s just business, Lacroix takes it personally and reacts in ways that Chris Brown would find a bit harsh. The current Ryan O'Reilly situation all but guarantees that he'll never put on another Avs sweater – quickly thrown overboard as a punishment because he dared to ask for a little monetary recognition for his contributions. But regardless of whose side you're on, you have to see Lacroix as the aggressor who is doing nothing but fanning the flames.

And the differences don’t just stop with the way the teams are run because the Nuggets deal with the media differently too. While the Avs seem to have an adversarial relationship with the local beat writers, the Nuggets are forthright in providing information and from what I read from the Nuggets writers, the team doesn’t have the same disdain for the media like their brethren across the hall. But the real difference between the two can be seen in how the two clubs handle other forms of media like blogs and radio. The Nuggets have embraced blogs like Denver Stiffs because they've seen the advantages to opening up their doors to non-mainstream media because it engages the fans on a whole new level that major news outlets can't. Ujiri regularly goes on local radio shows. Can you name the last time anyone from the Avs front office was on the radio? I’ll wait.

The Avs have been like Cold War era Soviet Union especially in its approach to blogs: deeming only journalists with a connection to a major news outlet worthy enough to have access. It's such old school thinking, someone with press access may need to track down Lacroix and ask him if he even knows there's such a thing as an internet. It would be a valid question because hockey has one of the more active presences on the web with hockey fans being very net savvy, spreading the word of the sport probably more than any other in cyberspace. To deny them is not only baffling, but counterintuitive to increasing your brand. Mile High Hockey, the fine Avs blog is an SB Nation site but still doesn't have access. SB Nation, also home to Denver Stiffs, is a major media source at this point, so the Avs decision to not include a blog like this now seems spiteful rather than pragmatic. The organization's ability to dig in its heels and be an onion in the ointment knows no bounds apparently.

The Kroenkes aren't going anywhere. They’re smart, rich folks who didn’t get where they are by being dumbasses. But sometimes the rich and powerful get where they’re at by letting others do the work for them. The Kroenkes are a basketball family with a hockey hobby. They won a Stanley Cup with the current regime handling their business on the hockey end of things, but times have changed. The Kroenkes aren't the problem, but it’s up to them to realize that the people they’ve kept in charge of their hockey team are. Two teams owned by the same people, and they couldn't be any more different. Like the two apartment buildings, the Kroenkes may live in the penthouse of the nice building but they should be firing everyone in the second building before getting it ready for demolition. You may want to move out while they knock it down and rebuild it.

Last modified on Tuesday, 12 February 2013 23:02
John Reidy

I never really liked sports until I had a religious conversion when the Broncos lost to the 49ers in that one Super Bowl. Now I'm obsessed with all aspects of the Denver pro sports world. Oh yeah, I hate college football. It's crap. Talk to me on twitter @johnreidydenver

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