Connelly leaves Nuggets for similar role with Timberwolves

May 23, 2022, 2:01 AM | Updated: 4:48 pm
FILE - Denver Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly considers a question during a...

FILE - Denver Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly considers a question during a news conference on May 21, 2019, in Denver. A person familiar with the situation tells The Associated Press on Thursday, May 19, 2022, that Connelly is in discussions with the Minnesota Timberwolves about their vacant president of basketball operations role. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DENVER (AP) — Tim Connelly is leaving his job as president of basketball operations of the Denver Nuggets for a similar role with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Connelly agreed to the deal on Monday, the Timberwolves announced.

The 45-year-old Connelly steadily built the Nuggets into a perennial playoff contender through draft picks that included two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and point guard Jamal Murray.

Connelly’s decision to switch teams inside the Western Conference’s Northwest Division was first reported by The Athletic and ESPN. The deal is reportedly for five years and worth more than $40 million. It also includes ownership equity.

“My family and I couldn’t be more excited to join the Timberwolves organization,” Connelly said in a statement. “I can’t wait to get to work to build an elite franchise that our fans can continue to be proud of.”

In Minnesota, Connelly will oversee a team led by Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. The Timberwolves are coming off a 46-win season and their first playoff appearance since 2018. They took the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies to six games before being eliminated.

Connelly’s first opportunity to enhance the promising roster he’s inheriting will come in one month at the draft, when the Timberwolves have the 19th overall pick in the first round. They also have three second-round choices.

Towns has two years and more than $69 million remaining on his contract, and if he’s an All-NBA selection, he’ll be eligible for a max extension. The more pressing matter will be the status of point guard D’Angelo Russell, the No. 3 scorer in the still-developing star trio. He’ll be entering the final year of his deal, with a 2022-23 salary of more than $31 million, after another up-and-down season with inconsistency that stretched into the playoff series against the Grizzlies.

The Timberwolves could also use help at the power forward spot, where Jarred Vanderbilt was the primary starter this season. The 23-year-old Vanderbilt averaged 6.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He was brought to the Nuggets by Connelly in a trade in 2018, and then sent to the Timberwolves in a multi-team deal in 2020.

“This is such an important hire for the organization and our fans, we are confident that Tim’s leadership will be a major part of our continued growth and future success,” said Ethan Casson, the Timberwolves and Lynx’s chief executive officer.

Minnesota shook up its front office right before training camp began last fall when the team fired Gersson Rosas in response to mounting tension around him in the building. Sachin Gupta was promoted to be president of basketball operations in Rosas’ place, with the caveat that the position would be evaluated again this summer. The team said Connelly will work closely with Gupta.

Gupta is well-regarded within the organization for his humble, steady leadership, notably by coach Chris Finch. The franchise is currently in an ownership transition, with Glen Taylor in the process of handing over control to co-buyers Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez in a sale that’s scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.

Connelly joined the Nuggets in 2013 when he took over for Masai Ujiri when Ujiri left for the Toronto Raptors. He helped bring in coach Michael Malone and built the roster through picks like Jokic (41st overall) and Murray (seventh), along with Michael Porter Jr. (14th). More recently, it’s been Zeke Nnaji (22nd) and Bones Hyland (26th). Connelly has also orchestrated several big moves, including the addition of Aaron Gordon at the 2021 trade deadline.

The Nuggets won 48 games this season despite missing two max players in Murray (knee) and Porter (back).

With Connelly leaving, the Nuggets could give more responsibility to general manager Calvin Booth. One of Denver’s top priorities this summer is signing Jokic to a super-max deal.

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AP Sports Writers Arnie Stapleton and Dave Campbell contributed.

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Connelly leaves Nuggets for similar role with Timberwolves