How Calvin Booth transitioned from NBA journeyman to Nuggets general manager

LA JOLA, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Head coach
Denver Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth and head coach Michael Malone speak during a training camp in La Jolla, California, September 28, 2022. (Photo by Aaron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Among the six nights between his first NBA draft as general manager of the Denver Nuggets and the opening of free agency last June 30, Calvin Booth invited Monte Morris to dinner. The 27-year-old point guard has been brilliant as Denver’s head coach while starter Jamal Murray has repaired an ACL tear in the 2021-22 season. Even with Murray set to return alongside two-time MVP center Nikola Jokic in this campaign, and despite growing trading rumors about the man sitting at the table, Booth said he sees Morris as a key figure in the Nuggets’ championship chase. Western Conference. .

“We talked about what this year looked like, what we need to do, what its role will be,” Booth told Sportzshala Sports. – And you understand that … this is a script, to be honest, I did not keep my word.

The Nuggets and Wizards were already discussing a deal involving Kentavius ​​Caldwell-Pope hours before the trade deadline last February, when Booth’s predecessor, Tim Connelly, was negotiating with Washington. Booth, 46, has risen through the ranks to be Connelly’s trusted second-in-command and shared Jokic’s idea that he needed more defensive specialists to fill the role of shooters and perimeter shooters. Then, in the week of the May NBA Draft, with league personnel flocking to Chicago, the Timberwolves’ ownership made Connelly an offer to lead the Minnesota front office that he couldn’t refuse. Either way, the league’s relentless clock was ticking toward draft night, leaving Booth on pole position in the Nuggets’ basketball operations and watching this build around Denver’s talented Serbian generation.

Sometime after lunching with Morris, Booth contacted Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard again. The entire league understood that Caldwell-Pope was still available, and a significant portion of the NBA’s transactions are the result of work laid down during the previous period of activity. These are the attributes of a fixed market, not to mention an industry rooted in competition, where the winner is crowned and where bargainers often re-negotiate with trusted allies rather than unfamiliar adversaries. Someone who was trusted like Booth, who is hailed by NBA executives for both his physique and his scouting insight.

“Everyone he touches, everyone loves him,” said Arturas Karnisovas, the Bulls’ executive vice president who worked with Booth for three years in Denver.

Therefore, a feeling of fear swept over Bout when it became clear that Washington was drawing a line in the sand. Morris and his ability to rank alongside All-Star Bradley Beal in the backcourt was the Wizards’ asking price for the veteran known as KCP plus longtime Nuggets reserve Will Barton. The son of a police officer and a nurse, Booth did wrong shortly after he received the highest power of his profession: the final say.

“That sucks part of the business,” Booth told Sportzshala Sports. “And I kick myself a little for it. But I learned from this lesson. You don’t know how these things unfold and you have to be careful what you say on these occasions. You don’t want them to start accumulating. I have already received one of them. If you have three or four or five or six times you say one thing and then another happens, that’s when it becomes the NBA you don’t want to think about.”

Booth’s light green eyes fill with softness. You can see them searching and scanning under his bushy brows as he speaks. After all, there is a big difference between watching and paying attention – studying instead of seeing. “Naturally, I’m quiet and observant,” Booth told Sportzshala Sports.

And so he shaded the locker room backdrop throughout his nomadic 10-year NBA playing career, after the Wizards drafted 6-foot-tall, 11-year-old Booth from Pennsylvania with the sixth pick in the second round in 1999. when a low usage giant with just 366 games on his resume could speak volumes and really be heard.

“I must have had cringeworthy moments,” Booth said, forcing a smile out from under his goatee. “I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind even from a low position where the guys were probably like, ‘Why is this guy talking? He’s not even good. He doesn’t even play.”

Booth only played 4,447 regular season minutes in his ten years in the league, compared to the hours he spent watching games from the sidelines. In the penultimate 2007-08 season, Booth played just 240 minutes in 31 games, and Booth was fixated on the NBA draft. He, too, was struck by Derrick Rose’s late-night athleticism in Memphis. He spotted Kevin Love’s accurate transmission at UCLA. Booth’s path from journeyman center to professional scout and general manager of the Nuggets’ front office was much less obvious.

His tenure as the Wizard ended midway through his second season when Washington dropped Booth in a package of outbound deals to Dallas led by Juwan Howard. Booth posted the best results of his career: 7.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1.3 assists in 19.5 minutes in 15 games – all of which would be a career high for the entire campaign.

“I was just a normal NBA player. And that can be the ultimate compliment if I put myself down,” Booth said.

The low-key big guy still impressed the Mavericks staff: “He’s just a nice guy. He’s reserved, smart, diligent, works hard,” Dallas owner Mark Cuban said in an interview with Sportzshala Sports. It was the first full year that the owner had control of the franchise, and Cuban, like Cuban, was overjoyed when his Mavericks made the 2001 playoffs, bringing in formidable jazz duo Karl Malone and John Stockton to the deciding game of the first round of 5 Cuban put out a bushel of tickets for Dallas fans to watch in Salt Lake City, where it was Booth who took center stage at sunset.

It was at the dawn of Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley getting into Western Conference controversy, “and Calvin Booth came out when it mattered the most,” Cuban said. When Finlay isolated Stockton just above the right elbow and the defense collapsed, he found the Dallas center patiently waiting along the backline like an important safety valve. Booth quickly reversed a series-winning iron shot with just over 10 seconds left.

DALLAS - NOVEMBER 16: No. 13 Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns dribbles past No. 52 Calvin Booth of the Dallas Mavericks on November 16, 2004 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO THE USER.  The user expressly acknowledges and agrees that by uploading and/or using this photo, the user agrees to the terms of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Calvin Booth credits Steve Nash for helping him earn his first big payday in the NBA. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“A lot of the big players in this situation would probably have turned to the rim because Finlay was really good at that roundhouse and just went for the rebound,” Booth said. “All I literally did was keep my eyes open. That was the only thing that needed extra talent.”

After Utah’s two attempts went past the other side of the court, Cuban and the entire Mavericks bench blasted across the court like a scene torn from March Madness.

His first deal was the highlight of Booth’s career, and that summer, Booth got his first taste of free agency. Seattle spied on the 25-year-old rim quarterback in need of a long-term home and rewarded Booth with a six-year, $34 million deal. He quickly realized how valuable ingredients can become when the franchise is already holding a straw in their hands to stir the drink.

“I didn’t get paid because I was that good. I got paid because of Steve Nash,” Booth said. “Dallas was a place where people could see Dirk and Finley drive and work and play. But Nash organized everything. I think there are certain players and even some coaches, but you could start a list of guys that these players have contracts on. And I’m on Nash’s list.

Booth never developed into the center of the SuperSonics’ future, remaining more of a permanent presence than a game-changing force. Then-Seattle head coach Nate McMillan found the Penn State product a necessary resource on his bench.

“He could play with anyone because he had a high basketball IQ,” McMillan told Sportzshala Sports. “He felt the game and his teammates.”

Rashard Lewis, a newcomer from Seattle, recalled Booth’s studious nature during filming, asking questions and observations that expanded the game’s geometry.

“The Observers are very smart,” said Antonio Daniels, another Sonics teammate. “He was an observer. Let me see, let me see. “Okay, is that what they do? Let me see how to attack him, how to plot against him.”