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Grading Tim Connelly's first two years as Nuggets GM: Part 2

Kalen Deremo Avatar
May 13, 2015

 

In Part 1 of BSN’s series analyzing the major transactions of Tim Connelly’s managerial career we took a look at the Nuggets’ disastrous 2013-14 season after moving on from former Executive of the Year, Masai Ujiri. It was a rough transition, to say the least, marked by underwhelming free-agent signings and draft-day blunders. Now in Part 2 of our series it’s time to examine the second half of Connelly’s brief career as Nuggets GM.

Will he redeem himself? Will his catastrophic first year be compensated for just one year later? And how exactly has he evolved over the course of his career? It’s time to find out in the paragraphs below as we complete our grading process and determine once and for all just how savvy Tim Connelly really is…

June 26, 2014 — Swapped the 11th pick and Anthony Randolph for the 16th pick, used to select Jusuf Nurkic, and 19th pick, used to select Gary Harris

In the first half of this series I talked about several botched moves Connelly will remember for the rest of his life. This trade is the antithesis of those. This trade, as of now, has been Connelly’s best. And boy was it a great. Rather than keeping fan-favorite Doug McDermott, the Nuggets opted to parlay a single first-round pick into two first-round picks and subsequently drafted two of the biggest steals in the entire draft. At the time fans ignorantly lambasted Connelly (yours truly omitted from this ravenous mob — I lobbied heavily for the Nuggets to select both Nurkic and Harris leading up to the draft) for this decision yet by the next morning people who actually know things about scouting had nothing but praise for the Nuggets. If the Nuggets move toward playoff contention within the next few years fans will inevitably cite this trade as the first step in the process. Put simply: This is the type of deal that separates good GMs from great ones.

Grade: A+

June 26, 2014 — Drafted Nikola Jokic 41st overall

In case you’ve missed it — and I’m assuming you have considering even I was unaware — Nikola Jokic is kind of a baller. This past season he won MVP of the Adriatic League, one of the best professional leagues outside the NBA, where he posted an RPG rating even higher than the MVP of the previous season, Dario Saric, who was selected by the 76ers 12th overall in last year’s NBA Draft. And did I mention he just turned 20? Again, this is the type of draft selection that truly separates the men from the boys.

Grade: A+

June 26, 2014 — Traded Evan Fournier to the Olrando Magic in exchange for Arron Afflalo and the draft rights to Roy Devyn Marble

This is a tough trade to put under the microscope given less than a year has passed since its completion and Afflalo isn’t even on the Nuggets roster anymore. But the Nuggets did get a first-round pick for shipping him to Portland, so in that sense the Nuggets essentially traded Fournier for a late first-round draft selection (per the stipulations of the pick) and a half-season rental of Afflalo. Initially this trade was seen as a homerun for the Nuggets considering the disparity between Afflalo and Fournier, yet the latter had a breakout season for the Magic this past year while Afflalo regressed, largely thanks to Brian Shaw and injuries, both of which were somewhat out of his control. If Fournier continues to improve this trade will correspondingly decrease in value, however Afflalo is still a much better player at the moment and a first-round pick is certainly nothing to scoff at.

Grade: B

September 30, 2014 — Signed Alonzo Gee to a one-year $1 million contract

Say what you will about Gee’s mediocre offense but this was without question one of Connelly’s best signings as it displayed his tardy yet relieving acknowledgement that defensive-minded players are essential to any NBA roster. Gee is nothing but defense, hustle, athleticism — and you need those attributes to win professional basketball games. Though he eventually became collateral damage in the Afflalo trade, Gee remains the type of player the Nuggets must continue to sign if they wish to compile a fully functioning gestalt and not just a bunch of offensively gifted scorers.

Grade: B

October 6, 2014 — Re-signed Kenneth Faried to a five-year $60 million contract, later restructured to a four-year $50 million deal

Ah, the infamous Kenneth Faried contract negotiation(s). If you recall, ESPN wrote a charming feature on the Nuggets downfall early this past season where Kevin Arnovitz anonymously quoted several sources who chastised Connelly for mishandling such an elementary aspect of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Essentially the Nuggets tried to sign Faried to a five-year deal worth less than the max, yet under CBA statute five-year deals for players coming off rookie contracts can only be executed for maximum money. In the end the Nuggets still signed Faried longterm, which is what matters most. Is he overpaid? Of course. Who isn’t in the NBA? But the way I see it, Denver isn’t exactly a hotbed for free agents and Faried could have easily walked after playing out his initial deal, similar to what Greg Monroe is about to do in Detroit. No matter how you slice it, anytime the Nuggets secure one of their best players longterm, that’s a win.

Grade: B

January 7, 2015 — Traded Timofey Mozgov to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for two future first-round draft picks

Anytime a team targets a specific player on your roster at the beginning of the year and won’t let up until they have him, you’re doing something right. In less than two years Connelly not only extended Mozgov for an incredibly modest price but in turn flipped him for two first-round draft picks. Unfortunately one of those was later included in the deal to help unload JaVale McGee’s crippling contract, but on pure value alone Connelly couldn’t have done better for himself with this one.

Grade: A

January 13, 2015 — Traded Nate Robinson to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Jameer Nelson

If you read Part 1 of this series or have been following BSN’s Nuggets page at all over the last month, you’re well aware of how I feel about Nate Robinson. He was a disaster from the start — always was, always will be. So finally discharging him was a great move by any measure. If Jameer Nelson decides to re-sign with the Nuggets as a backup (or starter, considering the rocky relationship between the Nuggets and Ty Lawson) then this trade becomes even more profitable. If not, then at least the Nuggets went days and even months without Robinson on the roster, which is always a great thing for a professional basketball-playing outfit.

Grade: A-

February 19, 2015 — Traded Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee to the Portland Trailblazers in exchange for Thomas Robinson, Will Barton, Victor Claver, a future first-round draft pick and a future second-round draft pick

This is another one of those “If” situation. If the Nuggets had a different coach, one that didn’t seemingly debase his entire rosters’ talents, Afflalo might have considered re-signing. If the Nuggets just won more, Afflalo might have considered re-signing. If there was a better culture surrounding the franchise, Afflalo might have considered re-signing. But there wasn’t and he never was going to re-sign and thankfully Connelly saw this and managed to get a first-round draft pick out of a guy who was only gonna play a few more months for the Nuggets. Again, it would have been ideal, even preferable that Afflalo re-sign, but given he wasn’t going to Connelly did another fantastic job of making something out of nothing.

Grade: A-

February 19, 2015 — Traded JaVale McGee and a future first-round draft pick to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for cash considerations

When it comes to running an NBA franchise nothing is worse than inheriting a contract so robust and at the same time incomprehensibly useless that you have to beg other teams to take it by including a first-round draft pick. But thanks to Sam Hinkie, a man with an insatiable appetite to collect draft picks at the expense of maintaining any sort of on-court dignity whatsoever, Connelly was able to resolve one of Masai Ujiri’s biggest blunders with a simple phone call. If McGee had more than one year remaining on his deal this trade would look much better, but in the end you can’t really put a price on ridding yourself of his $12 million cadaver salary and infantile on-court antics.

Grade: B-

March 3, 2015 — Fired Brian Shaw and named Melvin Hunt interim head coach

Many fans will argue firing Shaw in early March was a mistake given the Nuggets still had time to lose ample games and therefore increase their chances of getting a higher draft pick. While true, I give Connelly lots of credit for firing Shaw when he did. It shows his top priority is winning basketball games. It shows he’s not willing to play the role of sadist GM (see above) and watch ticket sales plummet along with fan enthusiasm. But more than anything it shows he has courage and a willingness to correct his mistakes even at the expense of Josh Kroenke’s — or rather, Stan Kroenke’s — wallet. Let’s just hope this is the last time an overdue coaching termination occurs on Connelly’s watch.

Grade: B+

Conclusion:

So what does it all mean? What did we learn? What can we take away from this two-part series analyzing Tim Connelly’s capricious career as Nuggets GM? Quite a lot actually.

The word I keep coming back to after analyzing all this data — if you want to even call it that — is “politics.” That’s the only word I can think of to justify, explain or even reason the entirely illogical chasm between Connelly’s first year as GM and his second. And though it’s just conjecture, perhaps even hearsay, it’s the only thing that really makes any sense.

In Year 1 Connelly made nine major transactions for combined GPA of 1.7. In Year 2 he made 10 major transactions with a combined GPA of 3.5. That’s an entire two-point jump within the span of less than 12 months!!! Again, how does this happen? How can you be so entirely inept one year and so completely shrewd the next? Connelly’s been in the game for 20 years. At this point he’s well aware of who he is and what he’s doing. So how exactly do you explain the monumental increase in gamesmanship from one year to the next?

That’s why I’ve decided on politics. I have no evidence to corroborate my theory, but again, it’s the only thing I can come up with to account for the absolutely fascinating conundrum that is Tim Connelly.

My guess is Josh Kroenke played a significant role managing the Nuggets in Year 1 as Connelly had so little time to prepare for his new gig and as time passed Kroenke slowly stepped away. Because GMs don’t just suddenly go from terrible to great. After 20 years studying basketball you pretty much are who you are. Masai Ujiri was a great GM from the very first move he made with the Nuggets. Conversely, David Kahn was an equally catastrophic one from his first day in office with the Timberwolves. And the same pretty much applies across the board. You don’t just suddenly go from inking Nate Robinson and J.J. Hickson one summer to drafting Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic the next…

Or do you?

I have no idea. While fun, speculating gets you nowhere. It resolves nothing and accomplishes zilch. All we can really do is examine the patterns prevalent in Connelly’s dealings and try to estimate how well off the Nuggets will be in the future. And when you do that, it seems clear the Nuggets are in pretty decent hands. If Connelly continues to make quality moves at the same rate he did last year he’ll have close to a 3.5 GPA (in my eyes at least) for the entirety of his employment as Nuggets GM. Hell, we might even be looking at the next NBA Executive of the Year if that’s the case.

But only time will tell, and for now, with a cumulative GPA of 2.6 and climbing I’d say the Nuggets are in pretty damn good shape heading into the future with Tim Connelly running the show.

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