Nuggets love Tim Connelly. But not enough to pay front-office exec who drafted Nikola Jokic what he’s worth.
Tim Connelly is no dummy. A front-office executive smart enough to draft Nikola Jokic would be a knucklehead to stay in Denver working for Nuggets ownership that doesn’t pay him what he’s worth.
In a cruel business where dollars are the only true measure of loyalty, the architect of Denver’s roster needs to end his bromance with team president Josh Kroenke, as well as coach Michael Malone, and take a gig in Minnesota, where it’s believed the Timberwolves are prepared to double his annual salary to $8 million.
Connelly is a smart basketball exec with a huge Michael Porter Jr. problem. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, only a fool would repeat the mistake of giving a $172 million contract to a player with a long history of being physically unable to stay on the court.
If the crystal jigsaw pieces of MPJ’s delicate back don’t hold together, is there any way Connelly can put a championship puzzle back together in Denver?
The MPJ blunder is on Connelly’s permanent record.
Take the money and run, Tim.
There’s an unwritten rule in the Kroenke family sports business:
Hire a brilliant basketball mind to serve as general manager. Refuse to pay top dollar, because nobody buys a ticket to watch the GM pace nervously in a hallway at Ball Arena during the playoffs. End the relationship when the exec seeks a big raise. Rinse. And repeat.
Way back in 2005, my phone rang in the Palace of Auburn Hills while on assignment covering the NBA Finals between San Antonio and Detroit. Kiki Vandeweghe was on the line, telling me how much he loved being the general manager of the Nuggets, then adding he had to consider taking a job with Cleveland, encouraged by a wife who wanted him to get paid fair market value.
Less than a year later, Vandeweghe and the Nuggets parted ways, when Kroenke Sports and Entertainment refused to extend his contract.
By all indications, Connelly would also prefer to hang around this dusty old cowtown. For better and worse, he’s a kumbaya and hugs sort of guy, loyal to players such as Will Barton to a fault.
With all his heart, Connelly clings to the naïve belief your NBA family will show love in victory and defeat. Well, if Porter can’t overcome chronic health issues, his hefty five-year contract will be an albatross around Connelly’s neck that drags him into the mud.
In the NBA, a front-office executive is never more than one step ahead of the posse. When the Nuggets got bounced from the first round despite the presence of a two-time MVP on the court, it was more than bad luck. Gambling on the health of MPJ was as shaky as a whispered prayer.
Godspeed to the man who wastes a chunk of Stan Kroenke’s billions.
Should Denver fail to make a deep playoff run next season, the shine on Connelly’s star will quickly begin to fade throughout the league.
Way back in 2013, while basking in the glow of a 57-victory season, there was a Nuggets general manager named Masai Ujiri who saw his team trapped against a glass ceiling, with an irascible veteran coach, George Karl, he could no longer tolerate.
Ujiri did the smart thing. He bailed, high-tailed out of Denver and took a job in Toronto, leaving the younger Kroenke to deal with serving divorce papers to Karl.
If memory serves, dumping the Nuggets worked out quite well for Ujiri. By taking a calculated risk in trading for uber-talented but moodily mercurial superstar Kawhi Leonard, he brought a championship to the Raptors in 2019.
Facing tough personnel decisions with no easy answers, this summer promises to be among the most critical junctures in franchise history. Luka Doncic and Dallas and Ja Morant and Memphis have elbowed their way past the Nuggets in the Western Conference’s pecking order.
Truth be told, I’m not certain Connelly can summon the necessary coldness in his heart required to move on from Barton, much less consider far bolder moves to reshape a team that needs more than a return to form by guard Jamal Murray to become a serious championship contender.
We’re forever grateful to Connelly for drafting Jokic. But Joker is not going to win a championship by himself.
I’m ready to see what fresh ideas and new aggression Calvin Booth, currently the top aide to Connelly, can bring to the difficult task of elevating the Nuggets from a joy to watch to a tough out in the playoffs.
In 2019, Connelly adroitly leveraged a dalliance with a job in Washington to land a significant pay raise with the Nuggets. I wish him luck in trying to shake down the Kroenkes for more money by returning to an old playbook, hoping to cut and paste, with current interest from the Timberwolves filling in the blanks he once used from the Wizards for personal gain.
Connelly should stop trying to bang his head against the wall in Colorado, where Nuggets ownership has habitually treated front-office executives as replaceable parts.
Thanks for the memories, Tim.
We’ll always cherish those giddy 50-point nights by Murray in the NBA bubble.
But this decision is a no-brainer. It’s time to get out of Denver, baby.
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