According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Denver Nuggets and President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly have reached an agreement on a contract extension.
Connelly’s contract could’ve expired at end of this season, but discussions with Nuggets president Josh Kroenke had been ongoing in recent weeks and culminated with a new deal, league sources said. https://t.co/1V8RgCfFCi— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 15, 2019
The announcement comes just hours after the New Orleans Pelicans, Connelly’s last employer, relieved Dell Demps of his GM duties and according to Wojnarowski are “planning to be aggressive in marketplace to hire a high-level basketball executive.” As our own Gordon Gross wrote earlier, it made a lot of sense for Connelly to be a prime target of New Orleans’ given his history with the organization and his success here in Denver. Now, those questions can be put aside. The nuggets also have announced that they have extended GM Arturas Karnisovas and the entire basketball operations staff.
This is an excellent move by Nuggets governor Josh Kroenke and shows that he has learned from his previous mistakes. A few weeks ago while on the radio show “Kreckman and Company” on Altitude Radio, Kroenke had spoke briefly on the negotiations between Tim and him and stated he was confident a deal would get done. That naturally made Nuggets fans weary, as the last time Denver entered an offseason with their top executive unsigned but with hopes to retain him they lost then VP of basketball operations Masai Ujiri to the Toronto Raptors.
After Ujiri brilliantly navigated the Carmelo Anthony trade and found success in the later parts of the first round in the draft he became a hot commodity. It was believed that he and Kroenke had a verbal agreement in place but that was never confirmed. When it came time to negotiate, the Raptors, Ujiri’s former team, made him an offer Kroenke knew he couldn’t match. After Demps’ firing today it seemed like the exact same scenario may be destined to play out with Connelly. Like Ujiri, he’s done a masterful job of transitioning to the next era of Nuggets basketball. Connelly’s most famous move is of course finding the gem that is Nikola Jokic with the 41st pick in the draft in 2014, but there have been many other commendable moves.
After a rocky start with some underwhelming free agent signings while the team still believed it was in playoff contention, Connelly quickly realized that was not the case and began changing the roster’s shape. He sent Aron Afflalo to the Portland Trail Blazers for Will Barton and a 1st round pick that would end up being Malik Beasley. He managed to secure two first round picks for Timofey Mozgov and used one to offload Javale McGee’s bloated contract. Connelly also did great work in the draft beyond just Jokic. In the same draft he traded the pick that became Doug McDermott for the picks that became Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris. The following year he drafted Emmanuel Mudiay, a notable bust, with the seventh overall pick but at the time it was applauded as an excellent selection. The following season he secured the services of Jamal Murray, Juancho Hernangomez and Beasley in the first round. Only the 2017 draft stands out as a black mark on Connelly’s resume in that arena where Denver inexplicably took Tyler Lydon,after trading the pick that became Donovan Mitchell for Trey Lyles. The Nuggets have already declined Lydon’s 3rd year rookie option and Lyles has struggled mightily in the final year of his contract. However, dig deeper and he still found the gems. Monte Morris, a 2nd round pick that year, has been a key part of Denver’s rotation and looks to be a solid part of their core moving forward. Fellow 2nd round pick Vlatko Cancar is playing the best ball of his career over at Liga ACB and looks primed to make the jump to the NBA at any moment.
Make no mistake, this was a deal that needed to get done. With Denver sitting in the second seed in the West and, barring a massive collapse, a likely to be a top 3 seed in the NBA Playoffs, not only have Connelly’s rebuilding abilities been validated, but his ability to take the organization from young exciting team to dangerous team have been validated as well. He’s not only done that by roster building but by creating a revamped culture inside Pepsi Center. Several players have mentioned that pre-draft Connelly didn’t even talk to them about basketball, rather he was more interested in who they were as a person. Connelly also has made repeated efforts to make sure to do right by his players, even when he knew the team had to move on. Examples of such are granting Danilo Gallinari’s request to not be traded, or releasing Jameer Nelson instead of trading him for a late round pick so that Jameer could choose for which the next team he played.
Beyond the players, Connelly has been incredibly successful with his staff as well and the Nuggets clearly agreed by extending the entire front office team. He stood steadfast next to coach Michael Malone who came under intense criticism last season when the team failed to miss the playoffs by one game for the second straight year. 9 months later, and now coach is headed to Charlotte to coach Team LeBron in the NBA All-Star game. Connelly widely speaks praise and credits scout Rafal Juc with identifying European prospects, including Jokic. He brought in analytics guru Tommy Balcetis and has groomed Arturas Karnisovas into the GM role he has today (after Karnisovas received interest from multiple teams about their own GM jobs).
Whether its been the draft, his staff, trades or even free agency where Connelly made arguably the biggest free agent signing in franchise history last season when the Nuggets acquired Paul Millsap, he’s consistently been able to make solid moves that have pushed this organization further than where they were before. He’s maintained patience throughout as well, constantly reminding everyone that “you can’t skip steps.” Yes there are some trades that don’t look as nice, the Nurkic and a 1st round pick for Mason Plumlee and a 2nd round pick trade was widely panned as a loss for the Nuggets, though in hindsight it appears much closer to a win-win, but overall the body of work is outstanding and the results are there to prove it. The Nuggets are transitioning from young and upcoming to here and dangerous and in many ways Connelly’s extension was the final part of that transition. With their president, coach and star player all locked up long term, this resurgent era of Denver Nuggets basketball looks to be here for a long time.