Tim Connelly staying in Denver is more evidence of the Nuggets’ growing culture

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone (center) and general manager GM Tim Connelly (left) and president Josh Kroenke (right) during a press conference at the Pepsi Center.
Jun 16, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone (center) and general manager GM Tim Connelly (left) and president Josh Kroenke (right) during a press conference at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

You could hear a pin drop in the city of Denver after it was reported that Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly was interviewing for the same position with the Washington Wizards. With an opportunity to rebuild his hometown team, Connelly’s potential dream job was available and there was nothing the Nuggets could do except sit back and wait.

That waiting led to a sigh of relief on Monday morning when Adrian Wojnarowksi reported that Connelly would be staying in Denver. That was an obvious huge win for the Nuggets, who were able to hold onto the person that is to thank for their rise back to Western Conference prominence.

It speaks to the culture that the Nuggets have built that Connelly would turn down what is widely considered his his “dream job” to stay in Denver and finish what he started. This all began when the Nuggets hired Connelly on June 17, 2013 to carry them out of playoff purgatory.

Denver was coming off a season when George Karl won coach of the year and Masai Ujiri took home executive of the year. Everything seemed to be going right for the Nuggets, that was until Karl was relieved of his head coaching duties and Ujiri moved on to the Toronto Raptors.

In stepped Connelly, who was tasked with turning around a team that well, most people did not think had to be turned around. Denver had made the playoffs 10-straight years and were coming off a 57-win season, which is the most victories a Nuggets team had won in a season since the merger.

The problem was that even though Denver was making the playoffs, they were having no success upon getting there. Nine of the Nuggets 10 postseason appearances between 2003-13 ended in a first-round exit and the only outlier was a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2009.

Enough was finally enough for the Nuggets franchise as they were tired of being mediocre. Denver wanted to build a team of champions, not a squad of first round exits. Connelly ultimately earned the job, but to understand how he got it, you have to know where he came from.

A native of Baltimore, Maryland, it all started for Connelly in 1996 when he became an intern for the Washington Wizards. Connelly quickly worked his way up to being a full-time scout before he became the director of player personal. It was not till 2010 that Connelly left his hometown team to go be the assistant general manger with the Charlotte Hornets. Connelly held that role from 2010-13 before he officially became the Nuggets general manager before eventually being promoted to president of basketball operations.

It has not been easy for Connelly since he arrived in Denver and there have certainly been some struggles along the way, but the journey for him and the Nuggets certainly paid off with the success they achieved this past season.

In 2018-19, the Nuggets won 54 games, which is the second-highest mark in franchise history since the merger. With the team Connelly assembled, they were able to get past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and missed the Conference Finals by just one singular game.

In his six years atop the Nuggets front office, Connelly has provided Denver something they did not have for a long time — hope. That hope came from failure, like Connelly’s first move of hiring former Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw, who was fired just two years into the job.

Moves like that became an anomaly for Connelly and his front office as they made a plethora of moves to change the franchises trajectory moving forward. It all all changed for Connelly and the Nuggets on draft night in 2014 as Denver traded Doug McDermott and Anthony Randolph to the Chicago Bulls for the rights to Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic.

Not only did the Nuggets trade for two great players in the 2014 draft, but they also took a chance on a Serbian player with their second-round pick with the 41st overall pick. That player would turn into the superstar that is Nikola Jokic, which is undoubtedly Connelly’s greatest accomplishment during his time as Nuggets general manager and arguably the greatest second-round pick ever.

Hitting on a second-round picks, like Connelly did with Jokic, are rare in today’s NBA, but it is something the Nuggets have done more than once. In the 2017 draft, Denver selected another gem of a player in Monte Morris with the 51st overall pick, who played in every one of Denver’s games this season. After a solid rookie season in the G-League, Morris grew into Denver’s back up point guard in 2018-19, proving to be another second-round steal by Connelly.

Connelly continued his mastery of the draft in 2016 when the Nuggets drafted Jamal Murray, Juancho Hernangomez, and Malik Beasley all in the first round of the same draft. That night certainly changed the outlook on this franchise, but so did free agent signings.

In 2016, the Nuggets got their first sit-down meeting with a high-profile free agent in years as Dwyane Wade came in to discuss the possibility of joining the Nuggets, not the Chicago Bulls. As everyone knows by now, that deal did not end up being completed, but the next year Denver got their prized free agent.

That all came to fruition just one-year later when the Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to a three-year, $90 million contract, with a team option attached to the last year of the deal. This was Denver’s first true big time signing in free agency and it was a move that really cemented not just Connelly’s time in Denver, but where the Nuggets were going as a whole.

A story that really paints a picture of the extraordinary mind that Connelly is has to do with the free agency pitch he and Denver made to Millsap. Connelly and the Nuggets flew to Atlanta to meet with Millsap, but they had a non-basketball athlete with them in Denver Broncos linebacker, Brandon Marshall.

This info can all be found in a Twitter thread by Dan Hellie, but the moral of the story is Connelly befriended Marshall to sell Millsap on the city of Denver. Marshall won a Super Bowl with the Broncos and helped sell Millsap on what it is like to win a championship in Denver. That was Connelly’s idea and it just speaks to his ability to think outside the box.

Even smaller moves by Connelly really tell the tale of what he has accomplished with the Nuggets. Just two summer leagues ago, the Nuggets provided an opportunity for Torrey Craig to show what he could do after spending four years playing in Australia and New Zealand. Connelly and the Nuggets signed Craig to a two-way contract after his phenomenal summer league, which turned into a multi-year deal last offseason.

Craig quickly became a contributor with this Nuggets team, which led him to starting 11 of Denver’s 14 postseason games. The quick rise of Craig’s career has a lot to do with Connelly and the Nuggets finding him over in Australia. Ever since Connelly has steppe in as Denver’s decision maker,Denver does a phenomenal job with their international scouting department — with big assists from general manager Arturas Karnisovas as well as Rafal Juc, Denver’s international scout.

It is obvious in what Connelly has done for Nuggets in terms of a roster standpoint, but the thing that most people do not see is how his personality has had an effect on the entire organization. No matter where you run into Connelly — whether you are a fan, media member, or passing bystander — he is a person that lights up the room.

That culture and personality is something the Nuggets are incredibly lucky to still have in Denver. With Connelly turning down the Wizards job, it keeps in place a culture that quite frankly is one of the best in the NBA. The legacy that Connelly is building in Denver is one that people are going to be discussing for years to come, the only thing missing is the illustrious trophy he and the Nuggets are on their way to grabbing.

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