Storyline: Nuggets Front Office

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In an appearance on The Woj Pod, hosted by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Nuggets’ president of basketball operations Tim Connelly shed some light on his decision to trade Nurkic and why the 23-year-old wound up in Rip City. “We had well-publicized issues as Nikola started to take off. Juka (Jusuf), who’s a great kid, was struggling with his new role,” Connelly rehashed. “It was no secret league-wide. We thought a guy like Mason with his ability to play with and without Nikola with his physicality, with his team-first approach, might be a good fit.”

Connelly continued about how there was surprisingly very little interest in Nurkic across the league when he started making trade calls. Certainly its been fantastic for Juka to have that starting opportunity. He played great. I don’t think anyone ever questioned his talent or skill-set and we’re extremely happy to have Mason but there are very few calls you can make or take where it’s ‘you know we have too many small forwards and you have got a good power forward’ or ‘this guy’s a good player’ and that part’s frustrating in that regard. During the Nurkic conversations, kind of realizing a change of scenery would be good for both the player and the team, how few willing partners there were even teams on paper at least ‘hey we think this guy’s a starting center. He’s proven to be such.’

Chris Dempsey‏: #Nuggets president and governor Josh Kroenke on what he likes about the current state of his team. “Just the overall development — internally, externally, front office, coaching staff, roster. I think everybody is getting better across the board, which is really what your organization wants at the end of the day. Yeah, we had a couple of tough years. But my message to Tim and Arturas through those times was make the most of those opportunities. And with a subpar record comes a high draft pick, and I think that our guys have done basically as well as anyone else in the NBA in drafting, particularly in the last three years. I think you’ll see a lot of our own draft picks dotted throughout our roster, and some of those guys are contributing heavily. As long as we’re drafting well you put yourself in a position to succeed because you’re creating valuable assets out of thin air. And I think that’s what our guys have done.”

The NBA draft, the first for Karnisovas with the title of Nuggets general manager, was only three days away. And though he portrayed a deep sense of calm early Monday as he prepared to help put the finishing touches on Denver’s draft plan, the competitive fire of a man with a literal world of basketball experience over three decades bubbled just below the surface. “I enjoy the draft. I enjoy the adrenaline,” said the 46-year-old Karnisovas, who was promoted to general manager last week after four years as the franchise’s assistant GM. “There are some who dread that, but I enjoy it. The draft is the culmination, the end product of all you’re doing to get to know a player, his character. … My favorite part is when you pick a player and you see him have success.”

“Tim and Arturas’ incredible work ethic, eye for talent, and integrity over the past several years has done nothing but give our organization confidence in our future and these promotions are a direct reflection of that belief,” stated Kroenke. “Continuity is one of the more underappreciated traits of championship level organizations, and we couldn’t be more excited for our group to continue to work together towards the goal of bringing Denver its first NBA title. While we acknowledge we still have lots of hard work ahead, the strides we have made on and off the basketball court are starting to reflect the culture that we believe can take us to a special place. With Tim and Arturas continuing their tireless efforts, a promising young team, and plenty of salary cap flexibility, we hope our fans are as excited as we are about the future of Denver Nuggets basketball.”

Chris Dempsey‏: GM Arturas Karnisovas on being happy to stay in Denver with the #Nuggets: “I’m extremely happy. Sometimes people are like ‘(Arturas), are you happy?’ It’s just my demeanor. But I’m the kind of guy that if we start something I’d like to see it through. I’m a competitive person as well, and would like to see the Denver Nuggets being successful. A lack of success the last couple of years has been bothering all of us. But again, we need to be patient.”

GM Tim Connelly and his staff came on board in 2013, but there has to be something in the DNA of the Nuggets organization that has allowed the team to identify quality foreign players that other teams have missed. It’s even more impressive when you consider how interconnected the world of basketball has become since the turn of the century, when the Spurs drafted Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. “It’s hard to find a guy somewhere that nobody knows,” said Arturas Karnisovas, the Nuggets assistant GM. “These days, with social media, it’s hard to miss a guy.”

A general manager can have a player’s entire career on his laptop in a matter of seconds. The problems teams had with international scouting in the last generation have inverted. Instead of having too little information, now there’s too much. If the draft is all about finding needles in a haystack, there’s more hay than ever before. “Your list of contacts in each region has to be profound because players nowadays are coming from anywhere,” Karnisovas said. “You have to know people, from coaches to GMs to agents. You have to be familiar with all the layers.”

The biggest advantage the Nuggets have is the familiarity of their front office with the international game. Connelly was a longtime international scout, and Karnisovas was one of the greatest players in European history before starting a career in management. They still travel overseas regularly, but their man on the ground in Europe these days is Rafal Juc, a 24-year-old from Poland who has quickly made a name for himself in the industry. “Rafal is the most popular man in Europe. He’s really well connected around the continent,” said Elan Vinokurov, the president and owner of EV Hoops, a scouting and consulting service used by NBA teams. “He has established himself at a young age. When he talks about a player, you sit up and take notice.”

The Nuggets are likely to get back into the D-League business next season, according to league sources. But nothing has been decided or is imminent. Right now, the Nuggets are not affiliated with a team but can assign players to a D-League team connected to another NBA team. It has been seven years since the Nuggets last had a D-League team all to themselves. Those were the Colorado 14ers, a team that relocated to Frisco, Texas, in 2009 and became the Texas Legends. The Legends are affiliated with the Dallas Mavericks and are coached by former Nugget Eduardo Najera.
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November 17, 2017 | 3:58 pm EST Update