How Calvin Booth helped the Denver Nuggets reach their first NBA Finals
The journeyman NBA center turned team president understood the team’s need to add veterans after being a vocal one during his career
DENVER – As the Denver Nuggets swept the host Los Angeles Lakers, Calvin Booth first hugged the man that gave him the unique opportunity to run the 2023 Western Conference champions in team governor Josh Kroenke.
In late May of 2022, the Nuggets were looking for a president of basketball operations to replace Tim Connelly. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone saw no reason to look outside. Stay in-house with Booth. Kroenke did just that, naming Booth president of basketball operations nearly a year ago. And Booth’s impressive moves this season helped get the franchise the extra talent it needed to get over the hump to the first NBA Finals in franchise history.
“That was really important for me to keep Calvin. I said that to Josh when Tim left,” Malone said. “I really felt that Calvin was more than ready to take over and lead this franchise. And the relationship that he and I have, the trust and the friendship, I think allows us to have honest conversations, to challenge one another and to help one another.”
The Nuggets enter Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals tonight against the Miami Heat with notable young standouts in NBA All-Star Nikola Jokic, guard Jamal Murray, forward Michael Porter, Jr., and forward Aaron Gordon. All four are under 30 years old. But another strength of the Western Conference’s top-seed Nuggets is their veterans and depth.
Nuggets veteran forward Jeff Green, 36, exercised his $4.5 million player option for this season on June 19. Green has been a spark when needed for the Nuggets off the bench in the postseason. The Nuggets signed Nets versatile defending guard Bruce Brown to a two-year, $13 million contract on July 1. Brown is averaging 12.2 points and 3.9 rebounds this postseason. On July 6, Booth made his first big trade as president of the Nuggets by acquiring veteran guards Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith for guards Will Barton and Monte Morris. Caldwell-Pope, 30, won an NBA championship with the Lakers in 2020. This postseason he’s averaging 11.7 points and 41.1 percent shooting from 3-point range. And while veteran center DeAndre Jordan and guard Reggie Jackson don’t play much, they offer dependable depth to the Nuggets’ bench, model professionalism and mentorship to the younger players.
Porter, Jr., offered respect to Booth for adding the veteran talent.
“It’s pretty well known now the guys he brought in are a huge part of the reason why we’re in the Finals,” Porter, Jr., said. “Obviously, KCP and Bruce being two of those guys. But really the vets, too, as much as the guys on the floor, are contributing to us winning, like DJ, Jeff, Ish, Reggie. Those guys’ attitude and their leadership is just part of the reason why we’re doing so well.
“It’s really just finding a group of guys that mesh in the locker room is a big part of winning. Calvin did a great job of that.”
Said Malone: “Going out and trading for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, signing a guy like Bruce Brown, DeAndre Jordan… So, Calvin has been very, very important to what we are doing on the floor every night.”
Booth knew it was important to add veteran depth and leadership to the Nuggets stars because he served a vocal veteran role during his journeyman 10-year NBA career.
Booth was drafted with the 35th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards out of Penn State. He averaged 3.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 blocks for the Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, Seattle SuperSonics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings while starting in 83 of 366 regular-season games. The 6-foot-11, 230-pound center once blocked a career-high 10 shots in a game. The highlight of the former Booth’s NBA career was making a game-winning layup with 9.8 seconds left for the Mavericks in deciding Game 5 victory over the Utah Jazz in the 2001 NBA playoffs.
“I tried to give guys some space,” Booth told Andscape. “But there was also a period of my career whether it was Al Jefferson (in Minnesota) or Gilbert Arenas (in Washington), even though I wasn’t playing that much, I was willing to test them when it was most necessary. There was a willingness to interact with the players when it was the most necessary. I felt comfortable doing that. I think that is a big part of teams now.”
Booth finished his NBA playing career in 2009 and immediately put his energy into his AAU basketball program called the Nova Village Athletic Club, which he founded that same year. On the side, he kept his foot in the NBA by scouting for an independent scouting service attending games primarily in Cleveland and Detroit and G League games in Canton, Ohio. Booth also remained close with Connelly, whom he befriended during their time with the Wizards. Connelly’s hopes to get Booth into the NBA as a scout initially went on deaf ears as he focused more on his AAU program.
But as the New Orleans Hornets assistant general manager, Connelly finally got Booth to return to the NBA as a scout for the franchise in 2012.
“Calvin is one the brightest basketball minds I’ve ever encountered,” said Connelly, now president of the T-Wolves, to Andscape. “From our first conversations in D.C., his passion for the game really jumped out. He has a wonderful ability to analyze the game from so many angles,” Connelly told Andscape.
After one season in New Orleans, Booth joined the Timberwolves as director of player personnel. He joined forces again with Connelly on Aug. 16, 2017, as the Nuggets’ assistant general manager. And on July 7, 2020, Booth was promoted to general manager of the Nuggets. Considering his NBA career and the dues Booth played in the front office, Kroenke was comfortable promoting Booth to president of basketball operations for the Nuggets last year. The NBA general managers also showed their respect as he tied for third place for the 2023 NBA GM of the Year award in just his first season.
While Malone pushed hard for Booth, Kroenke never really considered anyone else for the job.
“As he worked his way up our organization through the departures of other individuals, I got a chance to see him in a different light,” Kroenke said about Booth. “I understood that he had leadership qualities that really could be used to a positive way. And then with Tim’s departure last summer, I never really thought about anybody else because I knew I had a great relationship with Calvin. I knew he understood who we were as an organization, what we were trying to accomplish. And after he and I put our heads together, I think it was a very easy diagnosis of what we wanted to do to try to win a championship…
“It’s a unique situation for a first-time president. But coming in, Calvin understood the dynamics of our team and some of the areas that we probably needed to improve on. And only that perspective could come from someone that has been around to understand certain dynamics of the team. And so, he’s done a great job. He made some great moves for us last summer. And we’re really happy with the team that we have right now competing to try to do something special.”
Booth also takes pride in being an African-American who is one of few presidents of basketball operations in a predominately black 30-team NBA. Other Black presidents of basketball operations of NBA teams include the Toronto Raptors’ Masai Ujiri, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Koby Altman, the Phoenix Suns’ James Jones and the Dallas Mavericks’ Nico Harrison.
“It’s our responsibility probably to mentor and provide opportunities for other African-American candidates,” Booth said. “James has done a good job with Phoenix and Masai obviously in Toronto has done an incredible job. When we get these opportunities we have to do the best we can and represent well for African-Americans, especially those who are playing basketball at a high level.”
From being a second-round pick to a journeyman NBA center to becoming an NBA scout, general manager and president, Booth had to work to move up the NBA ladder and never put limits on himself along the way. And now he has a chance to add more significance to his unique story if the Nuggets win their first NBA championship.
“Just keep working hard and don’t limit yourself,” Booth said. “I never limited myself in anything I could do. Nobody thought I could play in the Big 10 Conference. Nobody thought I could play in the NBA. Nobody thought I’d play so much in the career. It’s rare for an average player that was a big man who is African-American to be in this position. It’s a lot of things that people don’t expect you to accomplish. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to it…
“It would be amazing to win a championship, first of all, for the players and the coaches. I’m just like a steward to our team in trying to move them forward.”