Until Tim Connelly scratched a seven-year itch and abruptly ended a great relationship with Michael Malone to take the money to Minnesota, they were inseparable basketball brothers, a front office manager and a feisty coach joined at the hip in the quest to make the Nuggets a legitimate championship contender.
“I don’t have any friends who aren’t on the Denver Nuggets,” Malone said Wednesday.
He was joking. At least I think so. Yes, Malone threw down the gauntlet but punctuated his fight words with a chuckle. There are no hard feelings between Connelly and Malone. Right?
OK, I’ll let the coach explain.
“Let’s be real…I wouldn’t be the head coach without Tim Connelly…I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity,” said Malone, who Connelly hired in 2015 to put the Nuggets back together. , after his first chance to coach the NBA ended 106 games in a stint with Sacramento.
Here’s what’s no joke: When Connelly left Denver in late May to become a division rival’s roster architect, every game between the Nuggets and Timberwolves just got a lot juicier.
“They’re a division rival,” Malone said, before getting down to business.
“As much as we will miss Tim and his family, it’s about beating them. And be in front (the Timberwolves). Same thing for Utah, same thing for Portland, same thing for OKC. We want to go back to being a team that can win the division every year, and that will lead to even better things. We hung some division banners. Now we want to hang a much bigger and more prominent banner. We look forward to the games and the rivalry with the T-wolves.
So am I the only one who finds it amusing that Denver and Minnesota cross paths in Las Vegas on Friday when the teams open play in the NBA’s summer league for young prospects?
Let the hoop hostilities begin.
Will a hockey brawl break out between Nuggets rookie Christian Braun and fellow Kansas Jayhawks David McCormack?
Or, after the game, will Connelly wrap his Denver pals in a brotherly hug and buy them a round of tequila shots at The Chandelier bar in the Cosmopolitan on the Vegas Strip?
Denver wouldn’t be near the championship conversation without the contributions of Connelly, who drafted center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray.
Malone, however, discussed the next big step for the Nuggets with Calvin Booth, who has worked hard to make the team mentally tougher and defensively tougher since taking over Connelly’s role in the front office.
“I don’t want to say, ‘One…two…three…championships!’ Don’t talk about it. Be about it,” Malone said, convinced that a winning mindset must run deeper than the words spoken when the Nuggets break caucus.
” Everybody talks about it. But if you arrive late for training or late for the plane, or if you miss a weight training session or a treatment session with the trainers, then you don’t think about it. Anyone can say the word championship, but few are willing to do the right thing every day. That’s the thing I’m going to challenge all of our players this year: I don’t want to hear it. Show me. Each day.”
Don’t make a mistake. Watching coach Jared Bednar and the Avalanche bring the Stanley Cup back to Colorado excited Malone, more determined than ever to help the Nuggets rise to the top of the NBA.
Whether it was drinking a cold one thrown by an adoring fan along the parade route or his moving speech during the championship rally, Malone acknowledged, “Jared has set the bar very high.”
“When we win. Fingers crossed, when we win I’ll have to put my game together,” Malone said, dreaming of a victory parade for the Nuggets, standing on a fire truck, with “fans who are throwing IPAs at me”.
Well, if we’ve learned anything about the Avs, it’s that they’re pretty good at hockey, huh? And absolutely unbeatable when it comes to crushing beers.
But Malone would appreciate the chance to show Bednar how a serious beer lover celebrates a championship.
“I think he was drinking Coors Light,” Malone cracked. “I have a bit higher octane.”