A quick draft story on the way to a chat about the guy who called the shots.
I told a part of this in one of the threads on Thursday night, but in the midst of the nearly 3,000 comments on five separate threads, I'll beg the patience of the few who already saw it in parts.
This is the first year in several I've paid heavy attention to the possible draftees for the Denver Nuggets. I'd suffered through one too many Skitas in my youth, and decided to save my judgment of the draftees until I'd actually seen them on the floor. This year, I prepped by reading months of Stiffs threads, sports commentary and listening to my three nearby NBA-crazy co-workers, each a fan of a different team: the Chicago Bulls, the Washington Wizards, and the Los Angeles Lakers. In all of that research, one thing became clear to me. I did NOT WANT Doug McDermott (apologies to those whose opinions differed, Mr. McDermott and Mr. McDermott's family. And his paper boy.).
After that surety, I was lost, swimming in the possibilities of Harris' and Nurkics, LaVines and Sarics. My co-workers debated who would place the McDermott bet, and we sat at our desks running the draft-cast in the background and calling out next picks. I held slight hopes for Harris or LaVine, only based on the observations of my co-writers and what they reported about the team's assessments.
And with the 11th choice in the draft, the Denver Nuggets choose... uh... holy... My co-workers erupted in laughter as the Nuggets selected McDermott, and I placed my head on my desk, honestly laughing as well. The three came over to razz me just as I looked up and an alert came up on my screen. You all know what happened in the trade, so I won't waste your time, but I will say it took me almost three minutes to convince the co-worker trio that I wasn't pulling a prank on the Bulls fan amongst us, and that the Bulls REALLY HAD given up their two teen picks for McBuckets. Cue role reversal, Bulls fan lays his head on his desk, and I lean back with a sigh of relief and depart work to grab the bus home. I can always follow along on my phone on the bus.
By the way, I based my ENTIRE lack-of-desire for drafting McDermott on the opinions of others, as I didn't watch enough college hoops last season, and the guilty side of me hopes he proves his doubters wrong and is a great pickup for the Bulls. Except when he plays the Nuggets.
My luck continues with an immediate bus, and in minutes I'm watching my smartphone, waiting on the 13th pick, getting antsy because Zach LaVine and Gary Harris are still on the board, and if we really liked them at 11, 16 would be a steal, right? Would both even be possible? Would we even want both? In moments, Minnesota blows that plan all to hell, and takes LaVine off the board. But after a few tense minutes, Phoenix takes T.J. Warren, Atlanta takes Adreian Payne, and there he is... Gary Harris, ripe for the taking. Sentences you tend to regret on Stiffs.
I wait the few minutes for the official announcement, but I know Harris is about to... Holy balls, we took Nurkic. WHAT IN THE NAME OF BLUE HOLY HELL ARE WE DOING?!?!? I'm pretty sure I didn't just say that out loud on the bus. I liked Nurkic, but how could we pass on our... and then ESPN's mobile coverage shows me a bit of a tactical revelation.
The Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns own the two picks between our choices, and both teams have a need at the center slot, and then secondary needs, but neither team has a need at shooting guard. Did Tim Connelly just swipe the second-best center in the draft away from the Celts and Suns, and then make a gambler's bet that both teams would draft for need instead of taking the now-incredible value of Harris at 17 or 18? I simply sat there staring at the countdown, hoping against hope. You know how it all worked out, but I'll wrap this part up by mentioning I scared the bejeezus out of the gent sitting in front of me when Harris' name popped up at 19. Pretty sure no passengers missed the "YES!!!" that shot out of the seventh row of the Rapid 7 Big Blue Bus.
This March, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting several of you at Stiffs Night Out (watching the NCAA tourney), including a number of the excellent writers I'm privileged to share this space with. One of the true highlights of that evening was a good half-hour chat with the headline attendee, the officially-capitalized Nuggets General Manager Tim Connelly. Tim (I call him "Tim") was kind enough to discuss Danilo Gallinari and the two-month-young decision to correct his ACL surgery. His frustration for the team and concern for Gallo's mental and emotional well-being were both readily evident as he related how the story had unfolded through the season. His responses to any questions asked during the story were intelligent and heartfelt. Further, he maintained this chat while watching three games simultaneously and still answering questions from his impressive staff, who were also making the rounds amongst us. He punctuated the talk by cracking a joke:
One of the Stiffs related their own ruptured-ACL experience, and Connelly, without missing a beat, expressed his surprise the Nuggets hadn't already signed him, which brought a wave of laughter from the table. Connelly held court, and was funny, straightforward and bright. I needed more data to judge him as a GM, but he was certainly a good guy to have a beer with, and had displayed several qualities that would serve an NBA GM well. All while sitting at 31-38 through an injury-plagued season.
There are a group of folks who remain underwhelmed by this years' draft, but the broader consensus seems to be that the Nuggets did very well for themselves, and all of that on a day when they made another strong move in reacquiring the services of Arron Afflalo, a move I've wished for several times amongst the threads with others. Suddenly, with Gallo's return, and Harris' arrival, the Nuggets could go so far as to add Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov in a late defensive timeout, and send a group of five guys (burgers and fries) to the floor that have solid defensive principles and might even be able to run (gasp) a defensive scheme. I've eaten these words with friends before, but I like what I saw this week, and believe our team may surprise a few folks (even in the wild Western conference) this season. But that's just how I saw Connelly's Rorschach Draft, fellows Stiffs. If you see Tim around town, give him a high-five from me, and tell him I owe him a beer.
Here's the thing. I know everyone loved Masai Ujiri, myself included, and that he joined the organization in a semi-simultaneous timeframe to Josh Kroenke. Therefore Stan officially made Masai's hire (as I recall, please correct if I'm wrong). But Josh was already a trusted voice in the organization, and must have had a large say in the hiring of Ujiri. The two seemed genuinely close throughout their tenure, and I believe still have a good relationship. I watch what I see this year and start to think... Maybe this owner is serious about basketball, and can pick a GM. Maybe. Time will tell, but Tim Connelly has certainly made a solid impression on me.
Caveat: I've seen his moves debated, and I've called for J.J.Hickson's head once or twice myself. It would have been interesting to see how I'd have felt if J.J. had been serving the role of one of two backup power forwards last season.
Barring more moves by Denver, where will Vegas set our over/under on wins this year when the Free Agency dust settles, my friends?
How's your weekend, Nuggets Nation?