Mark Warkentien, architect of the Nuggets' rise, is among the NBA's hottest free agents

The Summer of LeBron is almost upon us, and NBA fans know that once free agents LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh settle on their new basketball homes, the focus will immediately shift to next summer -- when the Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony will be the valedictorian of a much-less-memorable free agent class.

But for Denver fans, there's a more pressing free-agent matter: The re-signing of VP of Basketball Operations Mark Warkentien, last year's executive of the year and the reason the Nuggets contended last year and (sort of) this.

Warkentien, the Nuggets personnel boss since 2006, made his bones last season when he turned Allen Iverson into Chauncey Billups, a move that transformed the Nuggets into finals contenders. And while this year's team fell short of expectations, Warkentein remains the best candidate to navigate the murky waters that lie ahead -- not only resigning Anthony, but overhauling the rest of the roster, which is suddenly old (Billups), crazy (J.R. Smith) and just not good enough (Nenê).

The Nuggets-addicted bloggers at Denver Stiffs, in a story about Warkentiein and front-office mates Rex Chapman and Bret Bearup, second that emotion:

To the credit of Bearup, Warkentien and Chapman, they too knew that the A.I. experiment was ultimately a loser and they cut their losses as soon as the opportunity arose. By signing hard-working, high-character guys like Dahntay Jones and Chris Andersen two summers ago, followed up by shipping A.I. to Detroit for Chauncey Billups, Bearup, Warkentien and Chapman gave Karl a real team to coach. And coach them he did...all the way to the 2009 Western Conference Finals. And most of us -- me included -- believe that had Karl not been beset by throat and neck cancer this past season, a repeat appearance in the conference finals was likely. At the very least, the Nuggets would have won about 54 to 55 games and one playoff series.

Warkentien's agent says he's optimistic the GM will return to Denver -- but considering agents' on-again, off-again relationship with the truth, there's reason to be skeptical. Especially with Warkentien garnering interest from multiple teams. According to The Oklahoman, "the Clippers, Trail Blazers and Knicks also could be interested."

So: Before you start sweating about bringing back Anthony, perspire a little about bringing back the guy who can build a championship roster around him.

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Joe Tone
Contact: Joe Tone