KLEE: Nuggets nail it with Connelly - but why all the movement?

By: Paul Klee
June 20, 2013 Updated: June 20, 2013 at 9:35 pm

DENVER - Here at Pepsi Center, age is just a number.

The men in charge of the Nuggets are more likely to get I.D.'ed while buying a six-pack of Colorado's finest microbrews than to see the benefits of their 401(k).

The Nuggets were the third-youngest team in the NBA. Now they are being managed by 33-year-old team president Josh Kroenke and 36-year-old general manager Tim Connelly. At this rate, Justin Bieber might be the next coach.

"I'm flattered that you call me young," said Connelly, who was introduced Thursday as the new GM. "I may be young in age, but I feel like I'm almost a young veteran."

This is all good news. To win big, the Nuggets must catch rising stars before the bright lights of a bigger market lures their stars away.

By stealing Connelly from the Hornets, Kroenke identified another one. I have no doubt about it. Three years ago Kroenke did the same with Masai Ujiri.

"My dear friend," Connelly said of his predecessor.

Don't be fooled by Connelly's nice-guy routine. It comes with an edge. Hidden beneath the self-deprecating jokes is a self-confidence that isn't scared to play hardball. Connelly strikes me as the bad cop to Kroenke's good cop.

Connelly is from Baltimore.

A college coach once told me he would always have a kid from Baltimore on his roster due to their toughness and competitive streak. Much like Ujiri, who stood strong during the Carmelo Anthony saga until he got a king's ransom in return, Connelly has the personality that suggests he plays for keeps.

When Kroenke misspoke and referred to New Orleans as "the Hornets" instead of "the Pelicans," Connelly corrected him.

"That's a fine," Connelly told his boss with a straight face.

These NBA Finals were big-boy basketball. With spurts of bruising defense and precise offense played in the half court, the Heat and Spurs offered proof the Nuggets are further away from a championship than their No. 3 seed.

The Nuggets have some serious work to do before approaching the Heat and Spurs. I see Connelly as a fine choice to turn the Nuggets' construction site into a high-rise with staying power.

"I told Josh, 'It's rare you get jobs like this with a roster with this much talent,'" Connelly said.

Here's the bad news: If the Nuggets are such a good job for a GM, why was everyone so eager to jump ship?

When the Toronto Raptors called with an offer to join their basketball wasteland, Ujiri didn't think twice about planting another stamp on his passport.

When the Sacramento Kings called with an offer to recover their sunken ship, Pete D'Alessandro ditched the Nuggets quicker than you can say Vlade Divac.

"Once that happened, I didn't waste any time (pursuing Connelly)," Kroenke said.

If we needed proof that D'Alessandro was Kroenke's first choice to replace Ujiri, there it is.

Yet, D'Alessandro saw a better opportunity in Sacramento. Since then, Mike Bratz and Dan Tolzman of the Nuggets scouting department also skipped town.

If upper management sees better opportunities elsewhere - with the Raptors and Kings, who combined for 62 wins to the Nuggets' 57 - why should Andre Iguodala or another big-name free agent view the Nuggets as a worthy destination?

This is the kind of mass exodus you associate with a franchise that suffered 57 losses, not one that celebrated 57 wins.

I see an exciting Nuggets roster that will only get better with time. Kroenke helped build that roster.

But the eager departures of so many established basketball minds has to make you wonder if there is something wrong behind the curtain.

"Guys move around the league to build different resumes and also to get different experiences," Kroenke said of the revolving door at Pepsi Center.

Ignore the number on his birth certificate. Connelly is hardly too young for this job.

He is just right for this job - an NBA veteran with a background in scouting and the people skills to negotiate the tough deals.

"I've done pretty much everything from delivering the mail to making trades to everything in between," Connelly said.

Next on his career to-do list is a rare challenge:

Putting the pieces together again, when the pieces were already in place.


Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

For more on Connelly and the coaching search, see blog at gazette.com

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