Prior to the start of the season, T.J. McBride sat down with Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly
Preparing for the 2018-19 season, here’s Tim Connelly in his own words.
We had a really good year last year. We’re still on the outside looking in, but the continuity that our roster, our coaching staff allows, I think we get off to a hot start and hopefully ride and be consistent throughout the year — and hopefully not be one game out again.
I’m always hesitant to say “or bust,” because if we have a rash of injuries and we compete and we kind of fight and scrap and we’re on the outside looking in, then I can live with that. Or if we win 50 games this year and it’s the best the Western Conference has ever seen, we’re still on the outside, it’d be a severe disappointment, certainly. But I think as long as we continue to improve, I think we’ll end up in the playoffs.
I think in the last couple weeks of the season, our guys got a taste of playoff intensity. They weren’t playoff games, but our backs were against the wall after some really tough losses on the road.
Nikola Jokic’s game is a bit atypical for our level, and certainly when you make that transition from Europe to the NBA, you don’t know how your game is going to look. You don’t know how teams are going to look. You see the game has — with his confidence — has slowed down. You’re starting to see he’s got a better feel for the teammates and how to make them the best player possible. I think his selfless brand of basketball has started to define our system and our style of play.
Off the court, Nikola is the same humble, great guy – two great brothers, fantastic girlfriend, doesn’t take himself too seriously, doesn’t really like the attention that comes with being a guy that a lot of people expect to be a superstar.
When you look at the success, you can’t look past his family and certainly [girlfriend] Natalija [Macesic]. When you have a firm base, you’re able to get through tough times; when you have a firm base, you tend not to have a self-inflated ego. Collectively, he’s got such a great crew of people around him, and they’ve ensured that his head stays on straight. He doesn’t take all the accolades too seriously.
Jamal Murray and Gary Harris really like each other off the court, which helps. Gary has been through his struggles as a rookie, and with Jamal ,it wasn’t a rapid ascent to the starting point guard position; it wasn’t an easy transition from Kentucky to the NBA… it’s not just unique to Jamal and Gary, it’s a close-knit group of guys [in the backcourt], and they’ve all had different experiences — and they share those experiences to help each other.
Paul Millsap was never hurt before, so last year was such a fluke injury — even the injury itself is an injury you generally don’t see in basketball players. He’s going to help us immeasurably — on the defensive end, in particular. Not just the instincts or the toughness or the know-how, but there’s a certain respect that you have with a guy like Paul that the league and referees give you.
We say all the time it’s not front office, not coaches – we’re all basketball operations. You look around this league currently; there’s so many examples of environments that might not be the most functional. Infighting can eventually turn a culture toxic. We want to be the antithesis of that. We want to argue loudly. We want to scream and shout. When the door opens, we want to have each other’s backs. Having Michael Malone and Josh Kroenke as partners, we’re al-lowed to do that, and it’s really fun — and I think it’s the only way you can build a sustainable culture.
We disagree constantly, but what’s neat is there’s no infighting, there’s no jockeying for posi-tion. We’re very straightforward. I don’t want to be the loudest and most impactful voice all the time; we have so many smart minds in the front office and the coaching staff. We want to en-sure that all of those guys have their say on topics of importance. I don’t think you can ever un-derestimate the value of people’s passion, and that passion also times is muted if you don’t al-low those voices to be heard loudly.
We’re very, very much focused on growth, both internal and external. If someone did a great job elsewhere, then we’re very supportive. If you have the same role, same job after a couple years, then we’re doing something wrong. All those things kind of in unison help create a func-tional and fun environment.
Thankfully, I have a great wife, she keeps me, she keeps me grounded, gives me a very good perspective. This is not life, you know. This is not the be-all and end-all, winning or losing bas-ketball games, making or not making the right selection.
I’m very thankful that the ownership group has shown us patience. When I took the job, talking to Josh, we shared a similar, almost identical, vision: This should be fun. It was talked about our first night we met, that Saturday night in June, now what is it — five years ago, I guess? I think we’ve never strayed from that. Let’s make sure we check all the boxes we can control — func-tionality, fun, happiness, an environment that demands, not just promotes, growth — an organ-ization that you can be proud of when you leave the building. You can be proud how you inter-act with all facets of KSE. I think we’ve checked all those boxes. That’s only because we have a patient, open-minded and willing ownership group.
The fluidity of the NBA disallows plans to always [work], to always stick to it. I mean, look at our draft: we didn’t expect Michael Porter Jr. to be there at 14, but you have to be willing and able to adjust if you think it’s the right move. When you continue to get good guys who certainly have a degree of talent, who are hard-working enough, then eventually you’ll find some fairly solid ground to build on.
Will Barton is a great example, I think, of the importance of relationships. I’ve been lucky enough to know Will for a long time; I’ve had brothers who’ve known him even longer. When we got Will — the minute we traded for him, he came right over to the house, then we had piz-za and talked about this new beginning. Will was very fortunate coach Shaw allowed him to play that first year, and then that turned into a bridge contract. Coach Malone lived through the ups and downs of “we’re going to make mistakes.” If you’re a young player, you’re only as good as your coach believes in you. The mistakes are inevitable. Will a coach allow you to play through those mistakes? ‘Mo’ has done a great job.
Will wanted to be here, so when you both want the same thing, it tends to create a more hon-est dialogue back and forth.
I think pressure is self-created. You get in professional sports, you’re hired to be fired. Often-times, I think we have to hold ourselves to the same standards we hold players to.
I have the greatest coaches in the league. I’ve got the best ownership group in the world. We’ve got to win. It’s plain and simple — there’s no pressure. We were brought here to win and build culture and build a team that can win for a long time. If we don’t do that, then I don’t deserve to be here. But I think pressure is all self-created, and it’s too much fun to feel pressure.
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