Wizards

Nuggets executive: Unseld Jr. 'the opposite of a legacy hire'

Wizards

In the halls of the Wizards/Bullets franchise, the name Unseld invokes the rich legacy left by its former executive and coach and its most decorated player, Wes Unseld Sr.

No one is more aware of that legacy than his son, Wes Unseld Jr., who was recently named new head coach of the Wizards.

But as Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly told NBC Sports Washington's Wizards Insider Chris Miller in a recent interview, that legacy has nothing to do with Unseld Sr.'s name and everything to do with the reputation Unseld Jr. built for himself.

"It’s the opposite of a legacy hire," Connelly said. "This is a guy that has never shown an ounce of self-promotion, always done his job and done it well and hoped that was going to be recognized by other teams."

Unseld Jr. began his career as a scout for the Wizards, working under his father and alongside Connelly who joined the organization as an intern in 1996 -- the same year that Wes Unseld Sr. was named general manager of the Bullets.

In 2015, when Connelly was named general manager of the Nuggets, he hired Unseld Jr. as an assistant coach. During his tenure in Denver, Unseld Jr. helped turn around one of the worst defenses in the NBA and has been credited with playing a significant role in the development of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. as a part of head coach Michael Malone's staff.

 

Though this will be his first NBA head coaching job, Connelly explained that Unseld Jr. has already demonstrated an ability to command that role. In 2017, with Malone serving a suspension, Unseld stepped up to coach the Nuggets on the road in Sacramento.

"[Malone] and I sat in the hotel lobby because I don’t think we could even get the game in our hotel rooms and we sat in a lobby in Sacramento and watched the game," Connelly recalled. "The confidence that [Unseld Jr.] allows his players to play with is reflected in how he acts. He’s not going to get rattled. He’s got a natural presence and I think that presence stems from his work ethic."

The search for Scott Brooks' successor in Washington saw the Wizards interview a number of competitive candidates, including Chris Fleming, Scott Morrison, Jamahl Mosley and Sam Cassell, among others. Unseld's resume, along with his interviews with Wizards executives separated him from the pack.

"Really, when you’ve been working in basketball as long as he has – that’s not even taking into account growing up around it –there’s not anything he’s not seen," Connelly said of his long-time friend and colleague. "He’s seen every type of personality, every type of situation. And when your experiences are that unique and that wide-ranging it allows him to be who he is and you see it on the sideline."

With Unseld's hire, the Wizards are hoping the 49-year-old can help the team add another NBA title alongside the lone one that Wes Unseld Sr. won as a player in 1978.

The task won't be easy with a Washington team that has finished sub-.500 the previous three seasons and whose star player's contract (Bradley Beal) expires after next year. But the pressure, Connelly says, won't be a problem.

"He's a guy that is ready for this and he’s going to do a great job," Connelly said. "It’s just a really, really cool moment for him and his family and the organization."