Growing up as one of seven children, including five brothers, in a hoops-obsessed, Irish Catholic family in Baltimore, Pat and Tim Connelly had some backyard and blacktop battles.
Of course, even those turf wars couldn’t stop Pat from beaming as Tim’s Denver Nuggets navigated the NBA bubble to the Western Conference finals.
“As much as I’d like to kill my brother,” Pat good-naturedly said, “he’s an amazingly good person, he’s good at his job and I really loved working for him.”
That’s past tense, of course. In one of Artūras Karnišovas’ first moves as Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations, he hired Pat as vice president of player personnel. Pat worked with Karnišovas and Tim with the Nuggets last season after stints with the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns, where he served as assistant general manager.
Appearing on the Bulls Talk Podcast in his first public comments since his hire, Connelly said the decision to follow Karnišovas to Chicago was an easy one.
“Denver was great. The team was awesome,” he said. “But the potential of going to a team like the Bulls with a guy I inherently trust like Artūras, it was almost impossible to turn down.”
Connelly cited strong relationships with general manager Marc Eversley, assistant general manager J.J. Polk and holdover associate general manager Brian Hagen as an attractive aspect to the job as well. After all, when you travel as much as basketball executives do, you’re competitors. But you’re loosely colleagues, too.
“I’ve known how (Karnišovas) likes to operate after being with him in Denver. Him and my brother are like good foils,” Connelly said. “My brother is more of a free spirit, ideas guy. Artūras, if we get to the airport, he wants to get there two hours early and make sure things are rolling. My brother gets there five minutes early. And I’m kind of in the middle.
“Artūras is taking bits from places he’s been before — from Houston, from Denver, from the league, as a player. Artūras has such a wide breadth of experience from different places and different roles. It’s been fun kind of going through it with him as we build up our processes. That’s what we did at the beginning, a lot of Zoom calls of, ‘This is how we’re going to refer to certain positions. Here’s our jargon that we’re going to use as we describe players. Here’s our value system.’ It’s been fun.”
Connelly was both self-deprecating and appreciative as he detailed his “non-linear” path to an NBA front office. It included an unheralded playing career at Towson (Md.) Catholic High, where he predated Carmelo Anthony playing with one of his younger brothers, and a stint as Nick Nurse’s assistant coach for the Brighton Bears in the British Basketball League.
“My main selling point was the fact that I would work for free,” Connelly cracked.
Connelly has paid his dues and put in the work. His first NBA job was as a part-time scout with the Wizards, where he worked with Frank Vogel, Stephen Silas and Wes Unseld Jr.
As for what he generally looks for in players, he cited their physical tools, how they read and approach the game and how they interact with people around them. This last dynamic has been challenged with the loss of conference and NCAA tournaments to COVID-19.
The virus also has impacted the predraft process.
“We’ve kept Zoom in business, as every other NBA team is. We’ve done probably hundreds of guys talking for half an hour, which is great. But it’s different than picking him up at the airport, taking him out to eat, hanging out with him. And that’s when you’re kind of making your evaluation of them as a person,” Connelly said. “We have very good information from everybody that’s been around them. But your only first-hand experience are usually those draft workouts. Missing that makes it a little bit harder. But you fill it in as much as possible with Zoom and trying to make some sort of sense of how you think they will be when they get to the NBA as a person, which in the end is the million-dollar question.”
Echoing comments from Karnišovas, Connelly is “excited” about the talent in this draft, which many have labeled as weak. And while Connelly acknowledged more uncertainty than usual with the top picks and how the draft ahead of the Bulls will play out, sitting at No. 4 is an opportunity.
“The challenging part is to make sure because we’ve had so much time (to prepare) that you don’t talk yourself in circles,” he said.
Connelly didn’t need to watch his brother’s Nuggets become one of the NBA’s darlings to appreciate where he is. As he said, he gets to watch basketball for a living.
But the Nuggets’ run offered more inspiration for the opportunity ahead with the Bulls.
“We want to win. That’s the idea,” Connelly said. “There’s a lot to be excited about.”