Tim Connelly, Denver’s president of basketball operations since 2013, is leaving to take the same position in Minnesota, a source told The Denver Post.
The Timberwolves offered him a five-year, $40 million contract, plus equity in the franchise, another source said, who added the deal more than doubles what he was making with the Nuggets. The Nuggets made a counteroffer but there was still a significant gap between the two offers, a source said.
Connelly and his wife, Negah, met with Timberwolves ownership over the weekend in Minnesota and then took two days to mull the decision before Monday’s news. In between, there was hope within Denver’s organization that the Kroenkes might find a way to keep Connelly.
Minnesota’s interest in Connelly was well-known among the Nuggets’ traveling party when they went to Serbia two weeks ago, and there was even some hope that a new deal could be struck then, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. After that, momentum picked up with Minnesota.
Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth, who’s worked alongside Connelly for several seasons, is expected to replace him as the organization’s top decision-maker, multiple sources close to the situation said.
The decision to leave was difficult for Connelly considering how close the Nuggets are to title contention and the deep relationships he’s established inside the organization with players and coach Michael Malone. Under Connelly’s watch, the Nuggets have reached the second round of the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, which had only been done once since 1988. Connelly, according to multiple sources, wasn’t eager to leave Denver.
It’s a big loss for the Nuggets’ organization, which had established league-wide respect over the past few seasons under Connelly’s watch. That Connelly is leaving for a Western Conference rival, let alone a team in the same division, made it even more jarring.
If the decision to counter Minnesota’s offer was made solely by team governor Josh Kroenke, given their friendship, it’s likely Connelly wouldn’t be going anywhere, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. But short of that, it’s fair to wonder how much owner Stan Kroenke valued keeping Connelly. That his predecessor, Masai Ujiri, also left Denver for a more lucrative offer from the Toronto Raptors is an indication ownership was unwilling to make the financial commitment necessary to hold on to Connelly.
Connelly worked hard to establish a positive culture within the franchise. When it came to Malone, one of his closest friends, Connelly hated to meddle in coaching decisions and would often say the job was hard enough as it is. For lower staff members, he fought to get them adequately compensated.
After a victory in Washington this past season, Connelly hosted a party for much of the team’s traveling party. In addition to numerous staffers, Connelly was most proud that numerous players, including Monte Morris, Jeff Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Bryn Forbes and Austin Rivers, came on their own accord. It was a window into the community Connelly had helped foster.
It’s why so many people within the Nuggets’ organization vouched for Connelly’s leadership.
Aside from establishing one of the most functional organizations in the NBA, with continuity on the roster and stability on the coaching staff, Connelly oversaw the 2014 draft that yielded franchise centerpiece Nikola Jokic. Connelly, 46, took the back-to-back MVP at No. 41, making him perhaps the most valuable draft pick in NBA history.
After selecting Jokic, Connelly drafted Jamal Murray in 2016 and then pounced when Michael Porter Jr.’s medical history caused him to drop to No. 14 in the 2018 draft. When healthy, Porter’s looked like a steal, but Connelly and the Nuggets took a significant gamble when they agreed to an early max extension with him last summer. He lost the majority of this past season following back surgery, and his max contract begins next season.