From the moment Carmelo Anthony(notes) told the Denver Nuggets he wanted to be traded, Josh Kroenke understood the relationship between the franchise and its longtime star was forever altered. Kroenke made a fleeting attempt to sway Anthony when they met in Baltimore in late August, outlining why the Nuggets could continue to contend in the coming years, but deep down the team's young new president knew there was no going back. Kroenke also knew this: As much as Anthony wanted out, the Nuggets themselves might benefit from a breakup. They, too, needed a fresh start.
"I knew it was probably in the best interest of our team to move him no matter what because you never want somebody around that doesn't want to be there – no matter whether they're your No. 1 option or No. 15 option," Kroenke told Yahoo! Sports. "It's the nature of the beast."
Nearly a month after Denver sent Anthony to the New York Knicks in a blockbuster deal less than three days before the NBA's trade deadline, Kroenke's hunch has been proven correct. The Nuggets have benefitted from a change. Free of the turmoil from the season-long drama, they have played loose and aggressive, going 10-4 since acquiring Danilo Gallinari(notes), Raymond Felton(notes), Wilson Chandler(notes), Timofey Mozgov(notes) a first-round pick and two second-round picks for Anthony, Chauncey Billups(notes), Anthony Carter(notes), Shelden Williams(notes) and Renaldo Balkman(notes). Many observers thought the trade would knock the Nuggets out of the Western Conference playoff race; instead, it has reinvigorated them, making them a dangerous team for anyone to face in the first round.
Along the way, Kroenke and the Nuggets' first-year general manager, Masai Ujiri, have won a measure of credibility not only from their peers, but also from their franchise's fan base. As the negotiations dragged on for months, Kroenke and Ujiri were often derided as too inexperienced, too overmatched, to trade one of the league's biggest superstars in a deal that would bring back a worthwhile package for the Nuggets.
Kroenke, 30, was promoted to president of the Nuggets last summer in a complete overhaul of the team's front office. He played basketball at the University of Missouri and served three years as the Nuggets' vice president of team development prior to his promotion. Eventually, he will succeed his father, Stan Kroenke, as the franchise's official owner.
As the NBA's youngest president, Kroenke understood why so many people were skeptical whether he and Ujiri could pull off a franchise-defining trade.
"I made a joke to people in passing that I wasn't born as recently as a lot of people in this business, but I wasn't born yesterday," Kroenke said. "I understand that I might not know the fine points of the NBA like several people in this business. But I learned a lot throughout the process. It was an education of six years in six months. But I do know basketball and did know that superstars don't exactly grow on trees."
Kroenke soon realized that his own superstar wasn't long to stay in Denver. Anthony didn't accept the Nuggets' three-year, $65 million extension offer, and when Kroenke and his father attended 'Melo's and La La Vazquez's July 10 wedding in New York, the wedding invitations were titled, "New York State of Mind." Just days after committing to sign with the Miami Heat, LeBron James(notes) joked at the wedding reception that Anthony and New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul(notes) needed to team up with Knicks newcomer Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) to compete.
"By the end people were kind of toasting New York," Josh Kroenke said. "It was uncomfortable. … But even with the toast I had a lot of fun. 'Melo came over and asked my dad to say a few words and Amar'e came over and apologized."
On Aug. 22, Kroenke then met with Anthony, his agent Leon Rose and manager Robert "Bay" Frazier at a Baltimore hotel room. Anthony and his representatives told Kroenke he wanted to be traded to either the Knicks or Chicago Bulls. Talks with the Bulls never gained much momentum because Chicago didn't want to part with center Joakim Noah(notes). With Anthony holding sign-and-trade power – and the entire league soon knowing he wanted out of Denver – the Nuggets were thrust into a situation that Kroenke described as "ridiculously stressful."
"I was prepared," Kroenke said. "But you're never fully prepared when you walk into your first meeting and your franchise player wants to be traded."
Likewise, Anthony's representatives also didn't know what to expect from Kroenke.
"For this to be the first issue to address as an owner would be overwhelming for most," Rose said.
As the negotiations dragged on – and often played out in the public – the stress took a toll on the Nuggets, from the front office to the coaches to the players. The talks reached a boiling point at All-Star weekend when Anthony met with the owners of the Knicks and New Jersey Nets. Kroenke kept his father updated on the negotiations then let him know when he was making the trade with the Knicks.
Anthony was elated when Kroenke and Ujiri gave him the news. Other phone calls to Billups, a Denver native, and Carter, who lives in Denver in the offseason, were a lot tougher.
"I wouldn't say we were happy," Kroenke said. "I would just say we were glad to have the situation behind us and just have certainty once again."
In the process, the Nuggets granted Anthony's wish, delivering him a homecoming trade to New York.
"Josh handled each and every situation head on and candidly," Rose said. "We couldn't have asked for anything more. I believe that the Denver Nuggets organization is in good hands with Josh and Masai and is headed in the right direction for years to come."
Kroenke believes Anthony would have agreed to sign an extension with the Nets – a point of contention for much of the talks – if all opportunities of a deal with the Knicks had been exhausted. It was the Nets' lucrative offer that helped set the market for Anthony. Two days after Anthony's trade, the Nets acquired All-Star point guard Deron Williams(notes) from the Utah Jazz.
"I'm just glad [Utah] didn't shop Deron Williams before we traded 'Melo," Kroenke said.
Kroenke jokes that the saga aged him quicker than he could have ever imagined. "I told 'Melo that any trade we do needs to contain one vial of 'Just For Men' hair dye because he turned me gray through this whole process," he said.
While the Knicks have struggled since the trade, winning just seven of 16 games with Anthony, Kroenke thinks they will continue to improve over time.
"People don't understand that this wasn't a deal for New York to win right away," Kroenke said. "We took a lot of their role players. Eventually, they'll get some guys around them to help them do great things."
Kroenke hasn't spoken to Anthony since the trade, but is confident they will continue to have a good relationship. He's also hopeful Denver fans won't boo Anthony when he returns with the Knicks next season.
" 'Melo and I had the conversation throughout this process where if we ran into each other afterward, we'd be able to go to dinner," Kroenke said. "I know some of our fans were upset by the process, but 'Melo was great."
In the end, both the Nuggets and their superstar got what they wanted: a fresh start.