Nuggets’ Calvin Booth on challenge of maximizing Nikola Jokic’s championship window: “I don’t feel the pressure”

Calvin Booth is settling in quickly to his new role as the top decision-maker in the Nuggets’ basketball operations chain of command.

On Tuesday afternoon — roughly two weeks since former team president Tim Connelly departed to Minnesota — the Nuggets held pre-NBA draft workouts with David Roddy (Colorado State), Wendell Moore (Duke) and other college standouts.

After the workout, with just 16 days until the draft, Booth answered questions from reporters for the first time since he took over as head of basketball operations. Following are highlights:

On his new role: “I’m excited about it. I’ve been preparing for this ever since I took the front office job with New Orleans in 2013. A great opportunity. We have a great roster and a great coach. So, I’m raring to go. … I’m ready for the challenge and ready for the expectations that will be laid out in front of us.”

Analysis: Booth’s credentials make him a well-qualified candidate to fill Connelly’s big shoes. Booth played 10 years in the NBA. He then rose the front office ladder over another decade to finally get the keys to drive his own franchise. He’s earned this opportunity, and, as Booth noted, he already has a lot in place between head coach Michael Malone, two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and an experienced roster around him.

On Nikola Jokic/Jamal Murray reaction: “Both of them are pretty chill guys. (They were) kind of surprised about Tim a little bit, but understood he had a great opportunity that he had to go for. But kind of business as usual. I think both of them are comfortable with me and the vision that I have for the team.”

Analysis: Continuity is a key element to why Connelly’s move up north isn’t causing the franchise to panic. Booth joined the Nuggets in 2017, helping build team culture, and he was promoted to general manager when the Bulls plucked Arturas Karnisovas from the Nuggets’ front office. Still, Booth needs to execute a vision that puts his imprint on the franchise,  regardless of precedent.

On maximizing the championship window for Jokic: “When we talk about Nikola, the MVP of the league, I’m the steward … of his peak years. You want to optimize those and take advantage of those. I don’t feel the pressure. I’m excited for the opportunity. I want to be able to help him in the way he’s helped our organization and everybody in it.”

Analysis: Jokic, 27, is on record that he will sign a 5-year super-max extension when offered. Team governor Josh Kroenke is also on record that he will extend that deal to Jokic this summer. Now, the Nuggets must develop a title-worthy supporting cast to complement the big contracts of Jokic, Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Denver is expected to pay the luxury task to make it happen. But title dreams ultimately hinge on where Booth guides a franchise facing some tough roster decisions.

On NBA Draft needs: “We just need to get guys that know how to play and are plus defenders. That’s a big thing. I think Jamal, Nikola and Mike do well with those kinds of guys. … It’s a bigger responsibility and I’m looking forward to it. Oftentimes, you like somebody, and maybe the final decision-maker goes another way. It will be pretty cool to make the call and see how it goes.”

Analysis: Every player at the team’s workout on Tuesday was listed at 6-foot-4 or taller with each fitting the mold of a potentially strong NBA perimeter defender. It’s no coincidence. Expect the Nuggets to pursue someone capable of providing plus defense on the perimeter, preferably with an efficient outside shooting stroke to fill another need. But it’s anyone’s guess exactly what Denver will do with the No. 21 overall pick with Booth calling the shots for the first time.

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