New basketball czar Tim Connelly says he’s here ‘not to mess up’ what Timberwolves have going on
‘We’re going to work as hard as possible to push the envelope a bit,’ Connelly said.
MINNEAPOLIS — Word on the street is the Timberwolves have something going on in Minnesota, and Tim Connelly decided he wanted to be a part of it.
“I’m here not to mess it up,” Connelly said Tuesday after being introduced as the Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations.
He’s being modest, of course. Connelly’s reputation, and the job he has done running the Denver Nuggets the past nine years, had Timberwolves majority owner Glen Taylor convinced he wasn’t available. His team had been looking for a permanent director of basketball ops since suddenly firing Gersson Rosas last September.
“I didn’t have him on the list,” Taylor said Tuesday. “I thought he was under contract with Denver, so I didn’t have him as the first person to contact.”
Connelly had a contract option to remain in Denver, and would have been more than happy to do so. But Taylor called and asked for permission to speak with Connelly, the Kroenke ownership family said yes, and “that sort of started it,” Taylor said.
A five-year, $40 million contract no doubt helped, so did a series of potential bonuses. “If the team does well,” Taylor said, “he does better.”
If one includes interim managers Scott Layden and Sachin Gupta, Connelly is the Wolves’ sixth head of basketball operations since Flip Saunders passed away on Oct. 25, 2015.
“When you spend time in the room with these guys and you’re in this beautiful building and you’re around town and sense the excitement the T-Wolves have created, you know it’s a special place,” Connelly said. “We’re going to work as hard as possible to push the envelope a bit and hopefully we have new franchise records, keep building off where we are.”
Connelly, 46, started as an intern in Washington’s scouting department in 1996 and left 15 years later as director of player personnel. After three years as New Orleans’ assistant general manager, he was hired by Denver as its executive vice president of basketball operations and general manager in 2013.
The Nuggets were 36-46 in Connelly’s first season, but in his past four, the Nuggets have made the Western Conference finals once (2020) and the conference semifinals twice (2019, 2021) while averaging 48.7 wins a season.
The team made the postseason again in 2021-22 despite playing without two-thirds of its Big Three, Jamal Murray (knee surgery) and Michael Porter Jr. (back surgery). The third member of that group is center Nikola Jokic, who won this season’s Most Valuable Player Award after averaging 27 points and 14 rebounds for the Nuggets.
All three players were drafted under Connelly’s watch.
“We have full confidence and trust in Tim and he’s going to be empowered to build a first-class, world-class organization. Full stop,” said Marc Lore, a Timberwolves co-owner who, with partner Alex Rodriguez, will become majority owner by the end of 2023.
Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch was the Nuggets’ associate head coach under Mike Malone in 2016 and has known Connelly since he was coaching overseas in the mid-2000s.
“He’s not a micromanager, he’s not an emotional reactor, or an emotional communicator,” Finch said. “He cares deeply but he gives people the space to work and respects the emotions that go into our game. We have an open dialog. He will challenge you, and I think that’s good — we all need that — but it’s done in a way that is about finding the best answers.”
Connelly said he likely will add some members to the Timberwolves’ front office but added that he likes the team already in place, including Finch, who on April 11 signed a contract extension for at least the next four seasons . Under Finch, the Wolves improved from 36 wins in 2020-21 to 46 wins and a playoff berth in 2021-22. They went 3-1 against the Nuggets this season.
“It was a blast watching you guys play,” Connelly said. “Not a blast watching us play against you guys.”
Finch and his new colleagues will hit the ground running.
While the Timberwolves had a strong turnaround this season, the organization eyes personnel changes before next season begins in October. Connelly has decisions to make about guards D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley. Connelly also must decide whether to sign all-star center Karl-Anthony Towns to the super-max contract for which he is now eligible, a four-year extension worth $210.9 million that would build upon the two years remaining on his current deal.
Oh, and the NBA Draft is in three weeks.
“I don’t know if success is always linear. I don’t know if we’re going to go from here to a championship,” Connelly said. “I think we have to be realistic about where we are and how we can get better.”
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