Former Nuggets president Tim Connelly sat in the suite level for Wednesday’s game between the team he helped groom into a title contender, and the one he’s currently trying to mold.
This wasn’t like when the Nuggets visited Minnesota in early January (a Wolves win), and Connelly held court for at least 30 minutes, visiting with players and staffers prior to tip-off. This visit, Connelly’s first game back since leaving the Nuggets’ organization this summer, was more trying.
“It’s awesome,” Connelly told The Denver Post. “Super pumped and proud of the Nuggets and just seeing Nikola get better and better, which is hard to believe. But it’s also super weird. This was home for nine years. Still a huge part of me and my family’s heart. … It’s weird, man.”
The weather was awful the day the Timberwolves were in town, as snow and slush pounded downtown Denver. Connelly said he walked eight miles through it.
“Thinking about how great the time was here, and how much this city means to me and my family,” he said when asked what was going through his head. “… Thinking about all the special times.”
In what was an emotional decision for him, the architect of the Nuggets, leaving last summer when Minnesota, and the lure of a $40 million deal that included some level of equity in the franchise, came calling. Back in Denver, Connelly couldn’t help but reminisce about the community he’d forged here, including everyone with the Nuggets’ organization to arena staffers he hadn’t seen for months.
“I was a lucky bystander to great ownership and working for an amazing family that allowed me to grow professionally, and allowed this team to grow up,” he said. “You look back at this team, we missed the playoffs a lot of years in a row. Josh (Kroenke) really let the team marinate.
“… I watch every Nuggets game, I root for them like crazy,” he said. “It’s neat that me and my family played something super small.”
Connelly was ecstatic for acting Nuggets head coach David Adelman, who notched his first win Tuesday night over Portland after head coach Michael Malone entered health-and-safety protocols. He praised the offseason additions made by general manager Calvin Booth, and then rattled off respect for the rest of Denver’s front office, too. Asked who he keeps in contact with, Connelly said “Everybody.”
“The relationships aren’t transactional,” he said. “They’re meaningful. Ninety percent of the time it’s not about basketball, it’s about, ‘How’s your family doing?’”
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t odd for Connelly to watch as the Nuggets improved to 32-13, the best start in franchise history, as his Timberwolves remained stuck in neutral, battling to climb above .500. He said his son still has a Nuggets pennant hanging in his room back home.
As his new team searches for direction, Connelly, unequivocally, said he felt the Nuggets could win a championship this season.
“Elite ownership, elite coaching, elite front office, Nikola’s Nikola, guys that have really bought into (Malone) and they’ve bought into their roles, and a tremendous amount of experience,” he said. “They’ve seen a lot. … They’re a special team.”
At the heart of that team is Jokic, whom Connelly gets credit for drafting at the front end of his tenure. That decision to spend the No. 41 pick in 2014 on Jokic altered the course of the Nuggets’ history and, ultimately, changed the trajectory of Connelly’s career.
Now, when they text, it’s never about basketball.
“It’s just stupid things,” Connelly said, like funny videos.
“I think fatherhood’s really helped him,” he said. “He’s really taken to being a father. I joke with him that he finally bought a house. … He can relax now and be the king of his little castle.”
With Jokic still in his ascendance, the Nuggets made history in the Orlando “Bubble” and teased the type of heights this organization could reach.
“We tasted elite basketball and winning at the highest levels … He wants to play on the biggest stage. He’ll act like he doesn’t care about some of these things, he’ll be cranky or whatever, he’s one of the most competitive guys in the world, whether it’s playing blokus or playing keep-away in the pool, if it’s a competitive environment, there’s nobody more competitive.”
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