In Tim Connelly we trust.
The Denver Nuggets’ president of basketball operations is a risk-taker, star-maker, tradition-breaker, quest-raker, earth-shaker.
In another life Connelly would have worked alongside Nikola Tesla conducting alternating current experiments, test-piloting jets flanking Chuck Yeager, wire-walking with Philippe Petit between skyscrapers or exploring an unfamiliar trail next to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
He has failed sporadically, but succeeded often. However, unlike Sisyphus, he never quits attempting to figure out another way of pushing the boulder up the hill.
When Connelly comes into the room, you wonder: “What bizarre or brilliant action is he going to do now? Is he a savant or a genius?”
Particularly on NBA Draft Night, Connelly becomes an adventurist, a speculator and an equal opportunity employer.
Connelly was hired in June 2013 by Walmart heir Josh Kroenke as Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations. Even though he hadn’t even served previously as a general manager, Connelly oversaw his first draft two weeks later.
It was as if Connelly had become the United Nations Inspector-General or Why It Earp.
In eight NBA drafts, he has selected players who grew up or played on courts in France, Serbia, Spain, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Japan, Slovenia, Canada, New Zealand and North Dakota.
Connelly apparently likes the Eurostep shuffle.
He has drafted two players who didn’t play a lick of college basketball and another who played three NCAA games. He has drafted guys who play guard, stretch forward, center and the piano. He is officially signing Sunday a 5-foot-11 guard who is from Argentina and has spent much of his long professional career playing in the real Madrid, Spain.
Connelly traded away three players he drafted minutes later, and two became All-Stars. He grabbed players that nobody else wanted because they had been injured, and he has dealt two other first-round choices and too many future first- and second-round picks to account for.
He has chosen a former fat kid, a bunch of players with accent marks over letters in their names, a fellow who seemed to be missing an “e” in his first name, another whose last name starts with “N” twice and a player whose first and last names are the same.
This Connelly certainly is creative and resourceful. When other NBA executives call him, they have no idea what he will say or deals he will offer. Last year the Wizards wanted to lure away Tim, who began his career as a gofer for that team a quarter of a century ago, but he decided to stay in Colorado. Who could blame him for remaining in a quality state rather than transferring to a district with an abysmal team?
Major problem is, Connelly hasn’t produced a championship here, but then, nobody in charge of the Nuggets, and the Rockets before them, ever produced a title in the ABA or the NBA for Denver.
The Nuggets missed the playoffs in the first five seasons of the Connelly control – sounds like other teams in this Dusty Old Cowtown – although he kept promising postseason play. The Nuggets finally got back to respectability and in contention in the 2018-19 season despite being upset by the Trail Blazers. And the Nuggets became playoff darlings during the most recent playoffs by rallying twice from 3-1 deficits before fading in the Western Conference Finals.
Can the Nuggets reach the ultimate level in the shortened season (72 games) that opens, unbelievably, exactly a month from Sunday at The Jar instead of The Can?
The crafty, clever, cunning Connelly is making the effort with several remarkable moves and one serious setback. Jerami Grant, who transformed into a turbo during the playoffs, took the money ($60 million over three years) and ran to Detroit, and took backup center Mason Plumlee with him. Good for them. They joined one of the NBA’s dregs.
However free agent Paul Millsap is hanging around, agreeing to a one-year, $10 million deal, his agent told The Athletic.
Connelly drafted center Zeke Nnaji and guard R.J. Hampton (who could be Michael Porter Jr.-like), signed veteran forward JaMychal Green (late of the Clippers), undrafted free agent guard Markus Howard (who led the nation in scoring as a short senior with Marquette) and 29-year-old Argentine guard Facundo Campazzo (who played guard with Luka Doncic for Real Madrid).
Connelly hasn’t completed the changes.
But Tim is not timid.
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