Tim Connelly sheds light on Josh Kroenke’s role, Nuggets’ draft approach

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It's business as usual inside the walls of Pepsi Center after recent front office promotions designed to retain the services of now General Manager Arturas Karnisovas, who was a finalist for the Milwaukee Bucks' GM opening, also resulted in a bump up to the title of President of Basketball Operations for Tim Connelly.

But Connelly and Karnisovas' promotions won't affect the day-to-day operations in Denver. President and Governer Josh Kroenke will still have a significant voice in the Nuggets' front office, just as he did prior to Connelly and Karnisovas changing titles late last week.

"Having Josh is invaluable," Connelly said Monday after Denver's final pre-draft workout. "He played at a very high level, is a heck of a basketball player. We can have conversations without dumbing down the conversation."

Kroenke deserves an ample amount of credit for taking action on Karnisovas when all signs pointed to the Nuggets' No. 2 executive winding up in Milwaukee late last week. Kroenke bumped Karnisovas up to a GM title, which was enough for the 46-year-old to stick in Denver.

With the draft less than a week away and a key free agency period opening on July 1, it was vital for the Nuggets to keep their front office intact and show the rest of the league and prospective free agents that they're committed to their current path.

In Thursday's first round, where Denver has the 13th overall pick, don't expect the Nuggets to grab an impact player who will garner a spot in the rotation come the regular season. Denver plans to take a best player available approach with their three draft picks, two of which fall in the second round.

"We're not in a place now where we can draft specific for need," Connelly said. "Whoever we draft, whether it's at 13 or we move up or move down, it will be hard for him to have a significant role next season."

In their latest mock draft, DraftExpress has Denver selecting John Collins, a power forward out of Wake Forest. The 6-foot-10 Collins averaged 19.2 points on 62.2 percent shooting from the field, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game in his sophomore season, but wasn't much of a threat as a perimeter shooter. Collins shot just 0-1 from distance last year.

"It's been a focus," Collins said of improving his three-point shot. "I didn't get a chance to shoot threes at all in the offense we ran at Wake. I think I've always had the ability to shoot, it's just about me coming out here and being calm and going out there and showing them I can stroke it."

Collins worked out with the Nuggets on June 5 and should be available if Denver stays at 13 Thursday night. The 19-year-old is a fairly raw prospect who registered a healthy 37.5" maximum vertical at the NBA Draft Combine in May but could require some seasoning, possibly in the D-League next season.

"We're just trying to find a guy we can grow with, a guy that kind of fits not just our style of play but our style of person," Connelly said. "I don't see, looking at our roster as is, a ton of minutes for a rookie."

Denver could also look to other power forwards like Gonzaga's Zach Collins, who's a projected top-10 pick or UCLA's T.J. Leaf, the latter of which worked out for the Nuggets last week. The Nuggets could target Leaf if they trade down in the first round.

Expect Denver to be active Thursday night, as they always are in fielding and placing calls to inquire about moving up or down in the first round. The Nuggets' brain trust of Kroenke, Connelly, Karnisovas and their highly-regarded staff is aggressive by nature.

"Every decision we make, Josh is going to be involved and thankfully so," Connelly said. "Because he's a huge sounding board and a really knowledgeable basketball guy."

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