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Denver Nuggets Championship Connections to the Minnesota Timberwolves

There are five shades of the Timberwolves that you can find in the 2023 Larry O’Brien trophy. Let’s take a dive into what connects Minnesota to the Denver Nuggets.

2023 NBA Finals - Miami Heat v Denver Nuggets Edited by Leo Sun/Original photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NBAE via Getty Images

In case you missed it, the Denver Nuggets are the 2023 NBA champions. As the franchise who ranks as the second-biggest rivals for the Minnesota Timberwolves, it only seemed fitting that Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, and head coach Michael Malone exorcised their 2018 “Game 82” demons by defeating General Soreness, Jimmy Butler, to win their first title. Many Wolves fans, myself included, are celebrating the Nuggets for keeping Butler from his first ring. Other Wolves fans are celebrating the fact that the Wolves may have been the Denver’s biggest challenge this postseason.

But there are other reasons for the Minnesota fanbase to celebrate the Nuggets victory.

There are five unique connections that link the Timberwolves to the 2023 Larry O’Brien trophy. Let’s take a dive into what shades of our team you can find in the Nuggets organization:

2023 NBA Finals - Miami Heat v Denver Nuggets Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

1. Zeke Nnaji

Not every player that wins a championship actually gets a steady workload of minutes in the postseason. Such is the case with Hopkins, Minnesota native Zeke Nnaji, who played in just 12 of the 960 total Nuggets playoff minutes. The 22-year-old is still finishing his rookie contract and has yet to make an impact in Denver, but he has strong ties to Minnesota. Born in bred there, Nnaji was the star player for both Lakeville North High School and Hopkins High School, eventually earning a Minnesota AAAA state title in 2019.

After a year at the University of Arizona as the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Nnaji was selected 22nd overall in the 2020 NBA Draft by...

Nick O’Hayre | Denver Nuggets

2. Tim Connelly

The current Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations, Tim Connelly, was either crying tears of happiness or sadness last night. Maybe both. He was the very person who engineered the championship core. Connelly took a chance on Nikola Jokić with the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Connelly gladly selected Jamal Murray with the No. 7 pick of the 2016 Draft after then-Wolves POBO, Tom Thibodeau, passed on him. Connelly made a smart risk-reward venture by picking Michael Porter Jr. with the 14th pick of the 2018 Draft. In addition to those three draftees, Connelly astutely bought low on Aaron Gordon by swindling the Orlando Magic in 2021. That’s four championship starters that he specifically handpicked. Tim’s got to be extremely proud of his team for finally breaking through, even if it was the year after he departed for Minnesota.

There were two key contributors to Denver’s run who weren’t a part of his plan though. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Who the late Flip Saunders targeted in the 2013 draft) and Bruce Brown had some of the biggest moments in postseason. If Connelly didn’t acquire them, then who did?

Minnesota Timberwolves Media Day Photo by Molly Meehan/NBAE via Getty Images

3. Calvin Booth

The General Manager duties of the Nuggets fell solely on the broad shoulders of Calvin Booth in the wake of Connelly’s summer 2022 exit . Many had believed Booth was up to the task with his 10-year history in various league front offices. He proved them all right, as he made smart personnel decisions that led to a title. He drafted Christian Braun, traded for Caldwell-Pope, and signed Bruce Brown. All three had significant contributions to the Nuggets postseason success.

Prior to his current stint in Denver, Booth was actually on the Timberwolves roster during Kevin Love’s rookie season during the 2008-2009 campaign. The then 32-year-old vet may have only played literally a minute (40 seconds to be exact) in Minnesota before being traded to the Sacramento Kings, but his impact was longer lasting than that. He returned to the Wolves as a front office member in 2013, working his way up from a scout, to director of player programs, to eventually the director of player personnel until 2017. Connelly snatched Booth up to be a part of his team as the assistant general manager. Funny how things work.

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

4. Ryan Saunders

Some of us know him as Lil Flippers. Some call him Drip Saunders. The rest of the world knows him as the son of the late, great, Flip Saunders. Ryan Saunders is a basketball lifer who has always been connected to the Timberwolves since birth because of his legendary father. Born in Medina and graduating from Wayzata High School, Ryan earned his spot at the University of Minnesota basketball team as a walk-on. Though he didn’t play much, he remained with the team as a graduate manager later on.

Ryan mostly cut his teeth in the coaching ranks under the tutelage of his dad, beginning as an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards before making his way back to the Wolves sidelines. After Flip’s unfortunate passing in 2015, subsequent head coaches, Sam Mitchell and Thibodeau, kept Ryan on staff until Thibs himself was eventually let go in 2019. Any lifelong fan of the Timberwolves will never forget Ryan earning his first win as not only the youngest head coach to get a victory, but the youngest head coach in NBA history period.

POBO Gersson Rosas would later remove the interim tag from Ryan’s position, giving him the permanent nod with a multi-year contract. Saunders only lasted about a year and a half before he was let go for now head coach Chris Finch, but we can all rest easy knowing that one of the genuinely nicest guys in the coaching world found a home in Denver, with a championship ring to boot.

vjl110, ProfCedar, & YoLeo at Las Vegas Summer League 2016

5. vjl110 (Layne Vashro)

For those of you who frequented Canis Hoopus pre-Andrew Wiggins, this name comes as no surprise. Known around these parts by his handle, vjl110, Layne Vashro has been the Senior Analyst of Basketball Analytics for the Denver Nuggets since 2019. According to LinkedIn, he has been a part of the Kroenke Sports & Entertainment team since 2016. Coral has erased our robust history of recipes intelligent Wolves discourse, but he was a frequent commenter during The Dark(o) Days of Timberwolves basketball. However, he wasn’t just part of the community, he created his own NBA draft models that were brilliant. Take a look at how he scored the 2014 NBA Draft Class.

vjl had Joel Embiid, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams*, Marcus Smart, and Aaron Gordon as his top five prospects. Compare that to who was actually drafted: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum, and Aaron Gordon. He also identified Nikola Jokić as the 7th best player across statistical projection models in 2014. Yeah, it’s no surprise that the Denver Nuggets won a championship thanks to excellent drafting. We are extremely proud of the CH alum who has proven that frequent commenting (and a gifted mind for analytics) can land you a real NBA job!

*Pour one out for “Ground” Jordan Adams, who’s NBA career was derailed by early injuries. He’s currently thriving as the leading scorer for his team, Gladiadores de Anzoátegui, in Venezuela.

Did you learn anything new? Were there additional connections missed? Comment below and perhaps you can begin/continue your path to the front office of a future NBA champion.