The warts aren’t going anywhere.
No matter if current team president Tim Connelly is overseeing the Nuggets or the job is left to presumed successor Calvin Booth should Connelly depart, Denver is on the precipice of championship contention. But they aren’t there yet.
The hardest part about the timing of Connelly’s dalliance with Minnesota is that the decisions coming this summer are the ones that might make the difference between maximizing Nikola Jokic’s title window and winning a championship, or not.
If it’s Connelly, who’s been at the helm since 2013 and is known for his loyalty, he’d still likely have to make uncomfortable decisions. Those choices might involve Will Barton, the longest-tenured Nugget who’s long been a favorite of Connelly’s, or Monte Morris, one of Connelly’s favorite players in the NBA, let alone Denver. If Connelly is still in charge, upgrading the defense would be a priority and moving one or both of their respective contracts might be mandatory to address the roster’s flaws.
Denver’s wing defenders were nearly non-existent in the playoffs. If the Nuggets are serious about capitalizing on Jokic’s prime — and they’ve already lost two playoff runs due to unfortunate injury luck — now’s the time to be aggressive. Find a two-way shooting guard or pay a combo guard to help balance out the defensive stress Aaron Gordon endured all last season.
The uncomfortable part for whoever’s in charge of the Nuggets is the unsettling message construed by Connelly’s dance with the Timberwolves. Money is undoubtedly a factor in the conversations. Connelly has no reason to leave a place where he’s comfortable and has excellent working relationships. He has a two-time MVP in his prime, who’s said he intends to sign a supermax deal this summer. The only reason he’d consider leaving is because Minnesota offers a hefty raise, which should foster real questions about who stays behind.
If it’s Booth running the show, he’ll inherit the roster and the exact same flaws that were on Connelly’s desk. Look what happened when former Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas went to Chicago to run the Bulls. He got aggressive, trading away picks in an effort to win immediately.
Shouldn’t that be the goal with Jokic at the peak of his powers?
If Connelly leaves, as respected as he is, is a fresh set of eyes really so terrible?
The Nuggets are armed with several intriguing young players such as Bones Hyland and Zeke Nnaji and whatever they do with the No. 21 pick in this year’s draft. Would Booth view those pieces differently than Connelly did in an effort to maximize Jokic’s window?
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Regardless of who’s in charge, the roster needs addressing. Can Michael Porter Jr. first get healthy, and second, can he be protected defensively? What about Jamal Murray on the mend from his ACL surgery? Should he be thrust back into a lead playmaker role after missing what will then be 18 months of NBA basketball? These questions are going to persist.
What about free agent DeMarcus Cousins? Is he worth bringing back, as productive yet mercurial as he was? How about Austin Rivers or Bryn Forbes?
The Connelly situation is fascinating on numerous levels. It’s a window into ownership’s perspective, and an indication, again, of how they view top executives. But assuming Jokic was true to his word and will still sign the supermax deal this summer, Denver’s championship window is still open. Nuggets coach Michael Malone signed a contract extension in March. He’s not going anywhere.
Bottom line, whoever runs the team has some tough decisions to make.