Tim Connelly, Nuggets President of Basketball Operations, Bullish on Team's Future
By the time Tim Connelly, the Nuggets president of basketball operations, met the media on Friday morning for his season-ending press conference, he’d re-watched his team’s season-ending loss at Minnesota so many times that he could nearly recite every possession of the game – in order.
It was his way of beginning the process of moving forward with what promises to be a busy offseason.
But as he enters offseason mode, the organization’s starting point in making summer roster adjustments is at its most-advance stage in years.
“This is the most confident I've felt in our core group since I've been here,” Connelly said. “I think we have the making of a team that can enjoy sustainably high-level success.”
That is thanks to a burgeoning star in center Nikola Jokic; one of the NBA’s best shooting guards in Gary Harris; and the rapidly-improving young point guard, Jamal Murray.
“Certainly, when you’re on the outside, looking-in you have to address some needs,” Connelly said. “I think there will be some pretty interesting financial decisions we’ll make this offseason. But standing in front of (the media) now, I finally can say with full confidence that we have a core that can be really good for a long time. They all want to be here, and they are all about the right things.”
This season, the Nuggets made their strongest playoff push in five years, finishing 46-36 in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference, just a game outside of the top eight. They improved by six more games over their record in 2016-17, and much of that was due to the Nuggets becoming beasts again at the Pepsi Center. They compiled a 31-10 record at home, which was the fourth-best home record in the NBA.
“I thought (coach Michael Malone) was fantastic,” Connelly said. “Two years ago, we were a 30-win team. Two years later, we are a 46-win team. I thought over the last several weeks of the season (Malone) did a brilliant job kind of using our roster being creative; thinking outside the box. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of him and his staff. Faced with insurmountable odds after a rough start to the road trip…we had every chance to lay down and we did the opposite. So, I think our coaching staff should be lauded for a fantastic job.”
Now, the goal is find a way to get the Nuggets from being a playoffs’ bridesmaid to the bride. Part of that is locking up one big piece of the team’s core – Jokić – to a long-term contract. Connelly said he hopes to get that deal done as soon as possible.
“That’s a huge decision that we’re going to figure out,” Connelly said. “Nikola is going to be here for a very long time. The sooner (we can get it done), the better. He’s a guy that has been tremendous in how quickly he’s developed. And a guy that we love, and he loves Denver. So, the sooner we can get his signature on a long-term contract, the better.”
The other part of getting over the hump and getting the team back into the postseason for the first time since 2013 is continued improvement in areas such as road wins and consistent defense.
“When we (had the press conference) initially to start the season, I thought 46 wins would have us firmly in the playoffs in a pretty good spot,” Connelly said. “Certainly disappointed we didn’t make it. … But as we reflect on the season and all the growth we’ve shown, I’m unbelievably proud of our team.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter