The Nuggets have shown that they will not pay for executives.  But will they pay for this list?

The Nuggets have shown that they will not pay for executives. But will they pay for this list?


That’s the key word lost in former Denver Nuggets president Tim Connelly’s departure for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He was under contract with the Nuggets, which he is now not, and he didn’t cost the Minnesota Jack. Denver walked away without compensation. Usually such a move would cost the team to choose the first round as compensation; At least, the owners will end up bargaining like this.

In this case, unfortunately, Connelly had a contract with the Nuggets that essentially allowed him to be a free agent even when he wasn’t, allowing him to entertain shows from other teams without the Nuggets getting in the way. Kudos to him for writing his contract so positively, but that was also a huge private target for the Nuggets, especially since the Washington Wizards nearly hunted Connelly three years ago. (I was also told that the wizards might have succeeded had they taken this more seriously.)

Of course, Nuggets fans have seen this movie before. Nine years ago, they let the Maasai Ujiri walk in and take over the Toronto Raptors, another uncompensated loss. Ojiri was at least a real “free agent” so to speak. His contract was expiring at that time. However, the Raptors offered Aogiri three times as much as he was making at the time, and Denver hardly failed to respond.

I suppose one could go about this favorably by saying that Nuggets under Stan Kroenke’s ownership have an organizational philosophy of not paying CEOs, and one could argue this single point. As a former CEO, I might be a little biased towards exaggerating the value of these positions, but I can’t help but notice that none of us have ever played in games.

After all, the Nuggets survived Augeri’s departure by tapping Connelly from New Orleans; It is entirely possible that they would do the same to Calvin Booth, Connelly’s beloved and respected lieutenant Who is expected to take the helm? in Denver. (By the way, Booth would also add to the league’s still-thin-thin list of minority CEOs, which also includes Ojiri. Denver gave them their first chance.)

This line of chatter would be more believable if it were an exception to the rule of how Nuggets work, but that’s not the case. It’s more accurate to say there is a no-pay organizational philosophy, period. From the training facility (if such a thing exists) to the staff and infrastructure, Nuggets invest as little in basketball operations as any team in the league, a complaint that goes back at least a decade.

One could argue the reasons for this. I’ve been told at various times over the past decade that Denver doesn’t exactly do gangsters in financial terms, playing in a mid-size market where all of the Grand Slams operate and always flood the mountains. They also haven’t appeared on local TV in three years, an amazing case that likely won’t help their bottom line.

On the other hand, they just got out of the water financially with a rival show, not from New York or Los Angeles but from Minnesota… A medium-sized market where all of the four major slams operate.

This brings us back to Connelly, someone who loved Denver and wanted to stay but also read his situation well enough to read the handwriting on the wall. He knew that any huge deal for him was coming from somewhere else and the Nuggets were unlikely to be matched.

On the day he left, his salary still put him in the bottom half of the league’s executives, according to sources, even after nearly a decade during which he made the largest draft pick in NBA history (two-time player pick Nikola) Jokić ranked 41 in 2014) and won four playoff series in three years without Denver paying a cent in luxury tax.

He may also have seen the writing on the wall in another sense: Just because the Nuggets are set up to be a luxury tax player in 2022-23 doesn’t mean they’ll end up there. In particular, the status of Michael Porter Jr. hangs on the future of this team in a way that may force some decisions.

Next season, Porter begins the first year of a five-year, $173 million guaranteed extension for $146 million. The timing of that is unfortunate, as almost immediately after this deal was struck, Porter began to have problems returning; After nine pedestrian games, Porter underwent back surgery that knocked him out this season. He actually missed the entire 2018-19 season due to back surgery and most of his new season in Missouri due to the same thing.

Even in 2018, you’ll remember Porter’s health outlook was bleak enough that multiple teams red flag him in the draft despite his apparent lottery talent. (Porter’s 2018 draft exercise remains the biggest shootout I’ve ever seen; if he missed a shot, I can’t remember.) Connelly’s decision, though all indications are that he was in no hurry to leave and that the giant bag of money is from Minnesota. was the deciding factor.

The Nuggets are now set to be worth $15 million in luxury tax in 2022-23, with maximum contracts for Jokić, Porter and Jamal Murray and a major extension for Aaron Gordon in the books. Extending the inevitable Super Joki (five years, $254 million) is a no-brainer, but it will make Denver a tax team in 2023-24 and beyond without other compensatory moves as well.

Yes, the Nuggets mentioned they weren’t afraid to pay the luxury tax when they signed the Porter extension, but that’s what every team says. (NBA Executive 101: Even if you don’t intend to pay luxury taxes, go ahead as you wish, or risk getting bogged down in trade talks.)

Ironically, it’s Joki’s coolness that also gives Nuggets a chance to override the tax. With Murray and Porter out this year, it still drags them into the 2022 playoffs. The Nuggets aren’t going to be bad as long as the 15 fits in. But could it be better than an average good without producing a porter?

Would it hurt them too much if they dropped Will Barton ($14.4 million in 2022-23), Monty Morris ($9.6 million) or both on someone else’s roster? Morris in particular may seem replaceable with Murray set to return and develop rookie Bones Hyland. Ditching it and limiting their appetite for the free agent to a bare minimum would get them close enough to the tax cap to beat it in the season without too much hassle, even if Jeff Green and JaMychal Green opt for their deals.

Longtime Denver fans will draw another analogy here to a deal very early in Kroenke’s tenure: the 2008 deal that dropped Marcus Campy on the Clippers’ roster when the Nuggets faced a big tax bill for next season. The deal was very unpopular at the time (and, um, uncompensated), but the Nuggets made it to the Conference Finals for only the third time in franchise history the following season…the franchise’s high mark until Jokić brought them back there in the 2020 bubble.

In the big picture, one could argue that there is nothing wrong with this. This has been a hugely successful franchise; Ranked, he has had eight 50-win seasons since 2007-08, 14 playoffs in 19 years and a 30-win low range. Nuggets win games and cash in a tough market and can run a deep clincher if everything crashes right.

However, from a fan’s point of view, there’s a level of disappointment knowing the team will only go so far financially and cut every severable corner along the way. The Nuggets won’t keep CEOs, pay top dollar to new managers, go into the pay tier of Western Conference competitors in Golden State, or leave L.A. Connelly the latest sign of that and an omen of what might happen to the payroll team in the near future.

(Photo: Ron Chinoy/USA Today)

2022-05-25 16:18:18

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