Parlor tricks, meditation, Nikola Jokic’s potential at power forward and the logjam at shooting guard.
These are a few of the things Denver Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly riffed on with Denverite in a question and answer after the team introduced its four rookies Wednesday.
Check out the interview, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, below.
Denverite: I listened to the podcast you did with Chris Mannix of The Vertical, and I thought it was kind of funny how you guys mess with players a little bit during the pre-draft process. I heard a story about how y’all put candy on the table and ask them, “What’s your favorite candy?” And y’all will have someone seriously take notes. Could you elaborate on that?
Connelly: It’s intimidating for these guys. You’re 18, 19, 20 years old, you’re walking into a room full of adults who know everything you did. They know if you were late for a class, if you’ve ever had a beer. I can’t imagine being on the other side of the table. I certainly wasn’t an angel, and I’m not an angel now. So we try to disarm them a little bit and make them feel a little more comfortable. And also a lot of these guys are very much coached, so it gets them to be a little more comfortable, a little more honest.
We’ll also say you have to fight one guy in the room. Who would it be? It’s all just hoping to get them to stay relaxed. This is stressful enough as it is. We’re a pretty relaxed team, and we want that first interview to be reflective of who we are.
Denverite: Do any of them ever take it seriously? Do they not know you’re messing with them at first?
Connelly: I would say the snack one is the one most taken seriously. Some guys, we’ll have them sit down and face the wall. And they’ll sit there for 10 seconds, and we’ll be like, “We’re just joking, buddy. Turn the chair around.” It’s all just trying to be reflective of who we are. I think we work as hard as anybody in this profession, but we also want to enjoy it.
Denverite: Have you ever come across players who are into the meditation thing like Jamal Murray?
Connelly: Yeah. (Assistant GM) Arturas Karnisovas and his wife, Gina, they bring a hugely unique perspective. Gina is a sports psychologist. And Arturas is a huge proponent and has enlightened me on a lot of really cool things about the mental aspect of preparation. I think it’s great. It’s 94 percent physical, but if you have a leg up with your mental approach, it’s impactful. I’m looking forward to talking to Jamal about the benefits, and I think it’s great.
Denverite: You guys are, I don’t want to say stocked at every position, but you have young talent at every position. Is that a good problem to have?
Connelly: Yeah, it beats the opposite, right? Look, we won 33 games last year. We have to take the best player available and continue to build. Last Thursday was a huge step in the right direction. We added four players who we thought very highly of. Every one of them was the highest-ranked player (on our board) when we drafted, which is extremely unique. I think you keep building with talent and good people, and you let the competition kind of play out and see who comes out of that group. And you have a core group of guys. But I like where we are.
Denverite: I know you’ve said the starting two guard job is Gary Harris’ right now. Let’s say it’s halfway through the season and one guy is outplaying the other. Is it best man wins?
Connelly: That’s up to coach (Mike) Malone. Certainly we’re a competitive organization. If you’re the better player, you’re always going to play. That wasn’t said to dissuade competition. It was more a feather in Gary’s cap for the hard work he’s put in, the year he’s had. He just had a heck of a year.
Denverite: Nikola (Jokic) said in May that he wanted to play a little more four (power forward) next season. Is that something y’all are one the same page about?
Connelly: Again, speaking about time, position, that’s a coach Malone question. We don’t mandate any of those things. We have discussions, and I offer a strong opinion. But ultimately whatever Mo (Malone) does, I’m firmly behind because he’s such a good coach. But I think Nikola’s offensive flexibility, his passing, his willingness and ability to step out behind the arc … he can play both positions. You forget he grew up as a point guard, so the growth spurt was late. He has a unique skill set for a 7-foot guy. Put our best five guys out there and see what happens.
Denverite: You think he can ever be the guy who switches the pick and roll and stays in front of the little, quick guard?
Connelly: I’m hopeful. It would be shortsighted to make any strong suggestions after a year of basketball. Two years ago, he was playing at a fairly low level in the Serbian League. I know his basketball IQ and his length is always well-served defensively, and I think he’s a guy who’s going to get better every day.
Denverite: Why have you guys done so well in bringing over guys from Europe?
Connelly: Luck. I don’t think there’s any magic formula. The only thing I think we’re good at in that realm is that we have a lot of relationships that are natural. They’re not business relationships; they’re guys we are buddies with.
Obviously, Arturas (Karnisovas, Denver’s assistant GM) was the European player of the year. When I was in my previous jobs, I’d spend two months, three months overseas. (International scout) Rafal Juc is fantastic. (Director of Scouting) Jim Clibanoff used to consult with international teams. (Manager of Basketball Analytics) Tommy Balcetis is very familiar with European basketball. It’s all our staff.
The relationships are as important or more important than the actual talent evaluations. Because then you know the real guy. You learn about them off the court. You learn if they’re guys who will fit. With the international guys, you have to place an emphasis on how they view the NBA and ask if they have the personality that will allow them to stay and be successful.
Denverite: Will y’all be active on the trade market heading into the season?
Connelly: We’re always looking. Free agency is upon us now. That’s the next step for us after the draft. We’re never content. How can you be content with our recent string of non-playoff appearances? So we’ll see what opportunities present themselves, but we’re always looking.
Sports reporter Christian Clark can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_ClarkChristian.
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