Report: Denver's GM offered deals that weren't salary-cap legal

Report: Denver's GM offered deals that weren't salary-cap legal

It is every NBA junkie’s dream to run an actual NBA team from the front office. A gig that lets you make the final personnel decisions, deal directly as the last compelling voice before any move hits the owner’s desk, and basically run your own show. Even those of us that could admit that we wouldn’t have the right skills or temperament for such a job would still take a scenario like that in half a second. Sure, you’d eventually be fired; but you’d be fired after getting to run your own NBA team for a while.

We’re not sure if this is completely the case with Denver Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly, but a new report from ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz details several anonymous- but-on-record sources as calling out not only Connelly’s skills as an executive and deal-maker, but his actual understanding of the NBA’s salary cap. In a lengthy feature, here is the killer bit:

The mess in question refers to the odd sequence of events during the finalization of Faried's four-year, $50 million extension completed in early October, a deal that was initially leaked by Denver, according to several sources, at five years and $60 million, only the terms of that deal didn't conform to the current collective bargaining agreement, which stipulates a team's "designated player" for a five-year extension must receive the maximum money. Connelly and Ben Tenzer, the Nuggets' young director of team operations and de facto salary-cap guy, jumped the gun while the rest of the NBA, including the league office, scratched their heads at the report.

In the final analysis, the whoops factor of the episode exceeded any substantive damage, of which there was none. The parties completed the deal, and the Nuggets had protected their asset. Around the league, though, there was a collective WTF?! More than one source close to the league's infrastructure has confirmed Faried wasn't the only proposed transaction by Denver that violated CBA 101 basics. One rival team executive said the Nuggets called to propose a trade that was obviously unkosher under league rules, something that rarely, if ever, happens because no general manager wants to betray ignorance of such a rudimentary part of the gig. Most have the good sense to call the league to fact-check potential acquisitions.

General managers are engaged in a 12-month game of poker. They read each other for tells and vulnerabilities and prey on weaknesses. Projecting a lack of confidence or expertise can mark you as the fish at the table.

"There's definitely a lack of confidence when Tim calls," a different exec said. "You can hear it, and it's not even his fault because this wasn't a job he sought out. The s--- hit the fan [in late spring 2013], and he was needed in triage right away. How do you not take the job if it's offered?"

As you’ll recall, Faried signed his extension while negotiating from a position of strength after a stellar showing in Team USA’s gold medal-winning play at the FIBA World Cup. The contract was quickly restructured to be made NBA-legal.

Now, the NBA collective bargaining agreement, even nearly three years after it was agreed upon, is a vast document. NBA front offices are thankfully marrying analytics and scouting more than ever, but even with a new breed of general manager calling all the shots, even the most mindful and math-savvy of GMs still needs to run any debated move through a salary cap expert before even making a decision, much less reaching out to another team.

There’s no shame in working as an NBA GM or president without a full and impeccable understanding of NBA salary bylaws, and the CBA. There is a bit of shame, however, in moving forward with a proposed deal that at first glance would not be cap-legal. Arnovitz’s source no doubt declined to name the actual deal, because it would give him away as the executive on the other team.

All of this is coming to light now because the Nuggets have acted as one of the NBA’s great disappointments this season. Analysts were willing to give the team’s 21-win drop off a pass last season because the team lost Andre Iguodala for little compensation while working through various injuries to key players. This season, those key players are healthy – and they’re not working well together. The team is on pace for just 19 wins just two years after getting to 57 wins, and you don’t even get the feeling that the coaching stylings of one George Matthew Karl would help fix this.

There is a sound argument to be made that the Nugs were never supposed to be turning a corner any time soon, and that this is not Connelly’s finished product in the way former GM Masai Ujiri’s finished product seemed to take to the stage in 2012-13. Any re-shaping, though, would involve the trading of assets. And Denver doesn’t really have many parts on blinking strong on anyone’s radar right now.

The team’s best player after Faried, point man Ty Lawson, has still struggled with his long-suffering ankles this year. Danilo Gallinari has been wildly inconsistent after missing about a year and a half with a torn ACL (and weirdly botched recovery time), JaVale McGee still can’t find a home on an NBA court, rookies Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic haven’t had much time to contribute, Wilson Chandler looks completely lost on the offensive end, and Arron Afflalo has yet to approximate his breakout 2013-14 campaign in his return to Denver.

The team is nearly paying the luxury tax for this mess. There will be some options this summer, but the team will also be paying eight figure salaries to four players. Five, if the team decides to hand an appropriate extension to Afflalo should he opt out of the final year of his deal.

The roster is almost entirely made up of Ujiri hires, and though he’s earned our respect it is worth noting that Masai signed a healthy chunk of that 2-7 Denver Nuggets lineup and relatively few prominent members of the current Toronto Raptor team that appears on their way toward another Atlantic title. That’s just how luck runs in this league sometimes, and too often the hiring of a coach (and who was more coveted, in the summer of 2013, than Brian Shaw?) is enough to knock things pear-shaped.

The Denver Nuggets, as always, are back to acting as one weird experiment.

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Kelly Dwyer

is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!