Trading players is one of the most difficult parts of the job of any front office. When you’re a top ten team in the league like the Denver Nuggets are and a team who just came off of a Western Conference Finals appearance, you have to make those difficult decisions in order to give your team the best possible chance of winning a title. For Nuggets President of Basketball Operations, Tim Connelly, Aaron Gordon and JaVale McGee were the players he felt would help take them to that level.
“His versatility and his ability to play all over the court on both ends,” Connelly said of Gordon. “I think he’s one of the most underrated defenders in the league. I think he has a chance to be an All-League defender.”
Connelly flew to back to Denver from Orlando with Gordon and spent the trip discussing how he’s going to make an impact to the team right away and how much he’s going to love the city of Denver.
“I told him how great our coaching staff is, how great our city is, how great our organization is, and in doing all the research on Aaron it was a common theme of extremely competitive driven guy,” Connelly said. “A guy that really cares about winning and cares about winning at the highest level and he showed me when I talked to him.”
As far as McGee goes, Connelly has known the 3x NBA champion since he was 18 years old and commended the tremendous growth he has made throughout his career. The 13-year veteran started his NBA journey in Washington in 2008 and ended up with the Golden State Warriors where he won back to back championships in 2017 and 2018 and then won another one with the Lakers last season.
“He brings a championship level of experience,” Connelly said. “He knows what it takes. No one else in that room has really been where he has been and he’s been there several times.”
Connelly was a scout for the Wizards when McGee was drafted there and then was reunited with him again in 2013 in Denver when he took over as executive vice president of basketball operations and general manager. He is excited to be with him again and knows what to expect out of him.
There’s a lot of moving pieces when it comes to making a trade as big as this one. Connelly has a 3x NBA All-Star and a frontrunner for MVP in Nikola Jokic and a young star in Jamal Murray who are arguably the best duo in the NBA right now. Coming off of an impressive 2020 NBA playoffs where they bounced back from being down 3-1 twice and advancing to the western conference finals, there’s a sense of urgency to get even further this season.
“I think we have to acknowledge that we’re in a different place than we’ve ever been,” Connelly said. “The playoffs these last two years speaks to what we’re capable of and I think we have the best coach in the league and I think we have the best player in the league. These guys have organically grown together and proven that they can beat anybody when we’re playing our brand of basketball.”
Connelly said that he has open dialogue with both Jokic and Murray about potential scenarios of trading and picking up certain players.
“I’ve really tried to express like hey, we need your input to taking the next step in this,” Connelly said. “If you’re not feeling good about potential moves it’s likely not going to work. This team is their team. It’s owned by the guys in the locker room so we try to get their thoughts.”
Head coach Michael Malone is also encouraged to give his input and that’s one of the best parts about the job for him.
“Obviously the thing I love about my job is the partnership that Tim and I have,” Malone said. “Sometimes we get caught up in titles and president. We work together and we’re trying to help the team win a championship.”
The Nuggets’ front office has spent hours trying to figure out the right pieces they can build around Jokic and Murray and felt Gordon and JaVale were the best possible options.
Although the trade deadline is over, there’s always still a possibility of Denver making some other moves. They are currently happy with they have right now but that can all change depending on what’s out there and how a particular player could fit in with their specific needs.
“If we think that person can add something that we lack, if they can bring something positive to the locker room and the court then that’s what we’ll look at,” Connelly said. “The dust hasn’t fully settled. The trade deadline of guys just reporting. Guys are going to figure out where they’ll be. How active the buyout market will there be? What guys might be available? So we’re always looking. The job of trying to make sure you have the best roster never really ends but we feel pretty good about where we are.”
And of course, the ugly side of the business is having to trade guys who have done so much for your organization. Saying goodbye to a guy like Gary Harris wasn’t easy. He was drafted to the Nuggets in 2014 and had become a huge part of what they were building in Denver.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here without Gary Harris,” Connelly said. “He’s a trusted colleague, a dear friend, a fantastic player and an even better person. Where we are today is a direct result of the contributions that Gary made on and off the court and he’ll be missed dearly.”
For Malone, having to part ways with Harris was extremely difficult and brought out a lot of emotions for him.
“You look a guy like Gary Harris who I coached for six years and it was a very emotional sendoff at the airport in Tampa yesterday,” Malone said. “For both RJ and Gary Harris. We’re going to miss them, and obviously Gary Harris in my six years has had a lot to do with our success on the court and a lot to do with us creating a culture that has allowed us to do the things we’ve done the last few years.”
Gordon and JaVale are already in Denver and plan on speaking with Denver media for the first time on Saturday afternoon and are both expected to play on Sunday.