Update: In response to the continuing questions regarding his relationship with current Blazers management, evidenced in the comment section and referenced before on this site, Mr. Warkentien had this to say:
While I don't have a decade of history working with them like I do Paul Allen, I truly like the guys (KP and Tom Penn) that currently run the Blazers. They are doing a tremendous job and I respectfully decline to comment on anything about them; I hope they go 78-4 while the Nuggies finish 82-0
This week we were privileged to spend a little time conversing with the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Denver Nuggets (and last year's NBA Executive of the Year) Mark Warkentien. As most remember, Mr. Warkentien was a member of the Trail Blazers organization for a decade, rising from the scouting ranks to Assistant General Manager to Director of Player Personnel in 2003-04. Here are his reflections on the Nuggets, the power of Chauncey Billups, the splendor of the Western Conference, and his time in Portland.
Blazersedge: Last year the Nuggets posted 54 wins, their best finish in the franchise's NBA history, won the division, and gave the Lakers a tough go in the Conference Finals, also a franchise milestone. Can you top that? What are the goals for this year? Is it rings or bust?
Mark Warkentien: Four years ago we won 44-games, three years ago we won 45-games and 50-games two years ago. Last year we won 54-games and advanced to the Western Conference Finals; we'd like to continue the northern trend. That said, the championship is ALWAYS the goal.
Blazersedge: One of the things Portland fans have talked about for the last couple of years is the effect the right veteran can have. Give us an idea what Chauncey Billups has meant to the Nuggets and specifically how he improved the team.
Mark Warkentien: Chauncey put everything in balance for us...The Nuggets had two outstanding shooting guards - Iverson and JR Smith - and zero big-time point guards; by swapping Iverson for Chauncey we now have one of each. Anthony Carter became our back-up PG; where he is an excellent off-the-bench player...The biggest winner from the trade might have been Melo. Suddenly, he had room to operate from his mid-post area because Smith and Billups, who are deadly shooters, loom on the outside and can punish double-teams. He also had the ball there a lot more and a lot earlier in the clock, because of Chauncey's outstanding distribution skills...We believed that we needed another sniper in the backcourt to make Coach Karl's system work. In fact, that's one reason we inked Chucky Atkins in July-2007. In Billups, we found our sniper...It also helped with the fans. Chauncey is a high-character guy with local roots and his presence created good karma with the locals; the Pepsi Center is not an easy place to play...I had the privilege of working with George Karl, The Glove and Nate-Mac in Seattle and as a group we suspected that pairing a terrific coach like GK with a great PG like Chauncey was a tree that would bear much fruit.
Blazersedge: A couple of teams in the Western Conference appear to have been hurt by injuries and trades. A couple more have made significant acquisitions to try and get better. Break down the West for us a bit. Besides the Lakers who do you see making waves?
Mark Warkentien: For the past decade the best basketball conference on the planet has been the NBA's Western; not Euroleague, the ACB or any other venue. As usual, it will be an absolute slugfest; 9-10 good teams going for eight playoffs spots. The players are great, the coaches are great and the fans rabid; fasten your seat belt and lace up your Chuck Taylors REAL tight. It will be wild once again.
Blazersedge: You worked in the Trail Blazers organization for ten years. Any reflections on your time in Portland?
Mark Warkentien: This guy is the absolute best; he was terrific to me and my family for a decade...People in Portland do not understand just how good of an owner he is and - in my opinion - is underappreciated in the Rose City. His commitment to the success of the franchise is a matter of record and he has an excellent basketball mind; this guy knows the game. He asks great questions and challenges all to be better...Success in any organization starts at the very top and it is not an accident that the Blazers have an excellent roster and are positioned for substantial future successes.
Blazersedge: You also worked with Bob Whitsitt, a name which is often vilified around these parts...
Mark Warkentien: Let me be crystal clear that I absolutely enjoyed working with Bob Whitsitt...I worked for 12-seasons with Bob Whitsitt in SEA and POR; we went 591-361 during that span; won 62% of our games (approximately 51-games per year) and made the NBA Playoffs all 12-seasons...Those that are critical of Bob should try to post like digits, prior to pontificating. The facts and figures follow:
1991-1992 SEA 047-035 .573 Playoffs-SECOND ROUND
1992-1993 SEA 055-027 .670 Playoffs-CONFERENCE FINALS
1993-1994 SEA 063-019 .768 Playoffs-FIRST ROUND
1994-1995 POR 044-038 .536 Playoffs-FIRST ROUND
1995-1996 POR 044-038 .536 Playoffs-FIRST ROUND
1996-1997 POR 049-033 .597 Playoffs-FIRST ROUND
1997-1998 POR 046-036 .560 Playoffs-FIRST ROUND
1998-1999 POR 035-015 .700 Playoffs-CONFERENCE FINALS
1999-2000 POR 059-023 .719 Playoffs-CONFERENCE FINALS
2000-2001 POR 050-032 .609 Playoffs-FIRST ROUND
2001-2002 POR 049-033 .597 Playoffs-FIRST ROUND
2002-2003 POR 050-032 .609 Playoffs-FIRST ROUND
TOTAL 591-361 .620
During our time together he tackled some of the most complicated deals imaginable; including negotiating and managing more than $1 billion in player contracts with the Blazers/Seahawks and securing funding for the $450 million Seahawks football stadium and exhibition center. Bob is a guy that understands how to cut through the complexity of any business situation to get to the essential components that can mean the difference between success and failure. He was a dogged competitor who outworked and outmaneuvered opponents, often by taking bolder risks.
I love the guy.
Thanks to Mr. Warkentien for joining us. The West will be quite a battle this year. I'm sure most agree that a Nuggets-Blazers matchup in the playoffs would be epic.