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Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth had big plans after he was done playing, and now he’s on the brink of a title

Calvin Booth's 10-year NBA playing career included a playoff run with the Mavericks in 2001 under coach Don Nelson (left).GEORGE FREY/AFP

Calvin Booth wants to make it clear he wasn’t one of those 7-footers pushed into playing basketball because of his size. He spent his childhood closely following the game. He adored basketball, spending time scanning his hometown Columbus Dispatch looking at Ohio State basketball scores.

Thirty-five years later, after a 10-year NBA career as a reserve center, Booth is the general manager of the Denver Nuggets and has built a championship roster in near anonymity. Casual fans probably couldn’t pick Booth out of a lineup. He was a workmanlike player who played for seven teams, but simultaneously planned for a post-career in an NBA front office.


Booth, 47, is one of 11 Black GMs in the NBA. His road to leading his own club began with his being an AAU coach after retiring in 2010, and then accepting a scouting position with the Pelicans.

Many former players have trouble starting from scratch in building a front office résumé. Booth, however, paid his dues, becoming a director of player personnel for the Timberwolves in 2014 before moving to Denver as an assistant GM three years later. When Tim Connelly left for the Timberwolves in 2020, Booth became the team’s first Black GM.

“It is rewarding to be African-American and represent all ex-players and African-Americans who try to aspire to be in this position and following some of the greats who have done the job, like Wayne Embry, K.C. Jones, Masai [Ujiri], and Joe Dumars, and guys that have done big things in the sport,” Booth said. “Being the steward of a team where you have the best player, you can help him try to achieve the ultimate team goal by winning, that’s also rewarding that way.”

Booth was drafted in the second round in 1999 after a four-year career at Penn State. When he drew close to retirement, he shifted to studying and analyzing drafts. His first draft study was 2008 with Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Love. He said he enjoyed the process of scouting so much, he found his post-career calling.


“I often joke that if the draft was a lot worse, maybe I wouldn’t be as interested in being a general manager,” he said. “I found it intriguing and exciting, and trying to figure out who would translate and who wouldn’t was a fascinating dynamic to me. When I was done playing there wasn’t a job pairing readily available, so I got my mind to getting out a lot of my basketball thoughts and ideas and creating an AAU cloud and coaching that and formulating a team and creating a brand.”

Connelly, whom Booth considered a mentor, offered Booth a scouting job with New Orleans. He declined. A few years later, Booth reached out to Connelly again, and the job was still available.

“You get offered an opportunity and turn it down, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get that opportunity again,” said Booth, who next took a job with the Timberwolves. “Everything happened pretty quickly. Flip Saunders took over the Minnesota Timberwolves, he gave me a lot of responsibility and was a great mentor and literally treated me like I was part of the inner circle right away.”

Booth is a basketball lifer. Many former players understandably don’t want to endure the tedious process of slowly advancing through front office channels to reach a management position. Booth enjoyed the journey.


“I live, eat, and die basketball,” he said. “I’m not one of those 7-footers that like started playing when I was 16. I’ve been doing this since I was a young age. I’m always trying to think about the games in different ways.

“Being done playing, you always have to think about it differently than when you’re playing. You do learn some new stuff. The cool thing for me is the philosophy I developed over time aligned with what would work with our best players. I would refer to Nikola Jokic as a walking triangle offense. In that spirit, try to put that personnel around him that would surround the Bulls teams I watched growing up and the Lakers teams I played against. Valuing positional size and skill. That’s something that works well with our best players and I’ve tried to build a team in that spirit.”

Booth’s most impactful moves include acquiring Aaron Gordon, signing Michael Porter Jr. to a contract extension, signing Jeff Green and Bruce Brown, and drafting Christian Braun. While Jokic and Jamal Murray were staples when Booth inherited the job, he has built around those cornerstones.

“You have to be process-oriented,” Booth said. “All the people that have accomplished a lot in any facet of life realize the importance of investing in that process and understand that you can’t control everything, and I truly believe in that. Obviously, you want to do everything in your power to prepare and to try to execute the plan, but sometimes it’s not in the cards.”


The Nuggets have stuck with the process. They have fallen short of their playoff goals for several seasons, but the additions of Brown, Braun, and a healthy Murray have pushed the franchise to the verge of their first championship.

“Credit to coach [Michael] Malone for pulling these guys together and leading them, and a big credit to the team, especially the veteran leaders for understanding accomplishing something like this,” Booth said. “That they have to commit to and getting all these guys to participate in team dinners, and I think they’ve done it and they’ve committed to it. That’s a very important aspect of the story, if we win a championship. That’s why we won it.

“As for me, I didn’t score 35 and average a triple-double, so I don’t know how you can take credit for it. I just try to do my job and put our team and coaches in the best position to do well.”


Right role the key for Gordon

Aaron Gordon is in a perfect spot in Denver.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Aaron Gordon was a serious draft consideration for the Celtics in 2014, when they owned the sixth overall pick. But the athletic Gordon was nabbed by the Magic at No. 4.

Gordon spent 6½ years with the Magic, trying to help the franchise reemerge after the departure of Dwight Howard, but it never came to fruition. He was traded in March 2021 to the Nuggets and became a reliable option. A player who had perennial All-Star aspirations has changed his game into making winning plays, getting the key rebound or defensive stop, while teammates Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic garner most of the attention.


“I’ve never really cared about personal accomplishments,” Gordon said. “My first six years in the league, I had [five] different coaches. Not only was I 19 or 18 coming into the NBA, I was also having to learn a system each and every year. I’m learning a new system, trying to make my way. It’s hard. You can’t really nuance the game how you would like to nuance the game.

“Now I’ve been with Michael Malone for 2½ years, I’m understanding what he’s looking for, I’m understanding what the team is looking for, the organization, where I can kind of manipulate the game in my own right, where I can play within myself, where I can kind of stretch that, the area of what I can do.”

Gordon has developed into a valuable asset with his physicality and ability to rebound, while he remains an offensive factor. His 16.3-point average was his highest in five years.

“I’ve always come in with ‘defensive-minded’ as my niche, then a guy that can make plays and do a multitude of things out there on the floor,” he said. “I’m just out here to help my team win, so however it displays itself in that sense I’m fine with. No, it wasn’t too much of a switch.”

Malone told Gordon the Nuggets didn’t need him to be a superstar. They needed him to star in his role, use his athleticism and physicality to become a defensive enforcer.

“They told me from the jump, ‘We got you for a reason. Just be yourself and everything will work out,’ ” said Gordon. “That’s what it came down to. Even in the first game, it was just like a breath of fresh air just because it was like the first time I was able to get a back cut and then just like an easy dunk. There was just so much going on on the floor, so much spacing, and it seemed like everybody complemented each other so well.”


On ownership moves, in-season tourneys

It's looking like a busy offseason of change for Adam Silver.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The NBA has never been in a better place, and that will only improve when the league signs a new television deal with a group of potential suitors that includes NBC, CBS, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV.

Yet, the league still has its share of issues and one is lack of minority ownership, and if Michael Jordan sticks with his decision to sell his share of the Hornets, there will be no Black majority ownership on any of the 30 teams.

“I’m not going to speak for Michael Jordan. I never will. So, I’ll let him answer a question what his current status is,” commissioner Adam Silver said. “I’d only say that just in the same way that it’s wonderful that one of our greatest, Michael Jordan, could become the principal governor of a team, he has the absolute right to sell at the same time. Values have gone up a lot since he bought that team, so that is his decision.”

Owning an NBA team is a competitive and tedious process, and the league is going to invite stable investors who win bidding wars. Money has no color for the NBA.

“I would love to have better representation in terms of principal governors,” Silver said. “It’s a marketplace. It’s something that, if we were expanding, that the league would be in a position to focus directly on that, but in individual team transactions, the market takes us where we are.

“I know that increasingly our governors are focused on diversity in their ownership groups, just as they are in their front office, so the trend lines have been positive over the last several years.”

If you caught Silver’s words, he mentioned expansion, which will become a priority after the television deal is announced. NBA insiders believe a return to Seattle is at the top of the list, while Las Vegas is in the group for strong consideration for a 32nd team.

Meanwhile, the new collective bargaining agreement will mandate that players participate in a minimum of 65 games to be eligible for individual awards. If that had applied this season, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving would not have been eligible for awards.

“We’re putting in place an incentive for players to play more games in the regular season,” Silver said. “There’s no magic to the 65, but we’re trying to take into account games, of course, that are going to be missed because there are injuries, and maybe, occasionally, even it’s necessary for a player to rest.

“I think, again, this is something we negotiated with the Players Association. Everybody has an interest in the league putting its best foot forward in a highly competitive regular season . . . I think the play-in [tournament], incidentally, had a huge impact at the end of the season. We’re adding an in-season tournament.”

While there has been scant details about the in-season tournament, the only certainty is that it’s happening, putting more of a workload on star players for a questionable incentive.

“We’re hoping those various provisions plus, frankly, talking more about it as partners with the players, that people will understand that it’s a changing media landscape, higher expectations from our fans, different pricing models for fans receiving games, that we’re all going to have to play through the long grind,” Silver said. “But again, finding that right balance.”

World Cup interest

The last time Team USA participated in the World Cup in 2019, a team that included Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Kemba Walker finished in seventh place. Team USA, with Grant Hill now in charge, wants a better finish and is trying to fill this roster with quality talent, but also with first-timers to get the international experience.

“I think we’ve seen Americans are more focused on Olympic competition,” Silver said. “I think you’ve seen the commitment from our very best to compete in the Olympics and, in certain cycles, the World Cup, and not just once but multiple times.

“Frankly, if it were up to me, I would take one of those competitions, similar to what they’ve done in soccer, for example, where I think it’s essentially 23 and under for Olympic competition. I think it’s too much to create the expectation that every two years our best players are going back out and competing independently in the summer.

“Putting aside load management for a second, there’s no question there’s enormous wear and tear. It goes to the WNBA question about those women playing year-round. Their bodies just can’t. You need a rest.”


Lillard had to use social media for damage control after he answered honestly which teams he would prefer to be traded to. Lillard told Brian Custer on a Showtime podcast he would prefer to be moved to Miami or Brooklyn, if the Trail Blazers want to move forward. But he added he believes he will finish his career in Portland. After that interview, he went to Instagram to squash the rumors that he’s looking to be traded. And he also made it clear the Celtics are not one of his preferred teams, prompting Tatum to comment that Lillard has made his point about not liking Boston. Lillard has been steadfastly committed to Portland, but the Blazers, who own the third overall draft pick, have some decisions to make about their short-term future. Lillard wants to compete for championships now and the Blazers are not even close to making a deep playoff run. They could offer Lillard and the third overall pick for a piece or they could package Anfernee Simons and the third pick for an established veteran. It will be an interesting draft night for the Blazers . . . The Celtics have their eye on adding more assistant coaches after the expected departures of Ben Sullivan, Aaron Miles, Mike Moser, and Garrett Jackson. They targeted former Bucks assistant Charles Lee, but he is still a candidate for the head coaching job in Toronto and will be seeking a No. 1 assistant coaching position if that does not work out . . . The Celtics will know more about their roster construction before the June 22 draft, which may affect their selection with the 35th overall pick. Danilo Gallinari has a player option for $6.8 million that he has until June 20 to exercise. Gallinari tore his left ACL playing for Team Italy in the European Championships in August and did not play for the Celtics. Gallinari rehabbed throughout the season and certainly will be ready for training camp. He would be an attractive free agent if he chooses the open market. Gallinari, if healthy and effective, would give the Celtics the frontcourt shooting threat they lacked this season.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.