Denver Nuggets – Building Culture Through Draft

Christopher Dempsey, Daily Camera (

Shortly after Mike Bohn was hired as athletic director at the University of Colorado in 2005, he implemented programs to reach out to students. One of those was handing out free pizza to those in the student section at football and basketball games.

“Because happy students,” Bohn said at the time, “turn into happy alumni.”

And happy alumni are more apt to give back to the program. It was a long-term strategy to keep money rolling in long after students left campus.

The Nuggets are enacting a similar approach to impress young players. But no, it does not involve free pizza.

In two predraft workouts, the Nuggets have run 12 players through workouts at the Pepsi Center. But they’ve also showed them the city, because players who like Denver and the organization now might give them a longer look down the line.

The current play is the draft. The Nuggets have three first-round picks June 23. But whether they miss out on a player who was taken before them or choose to select a player who fits their roster rather than another player they might still like, a connection has been established.

That connection, they say, doesn’t have an expiration date. It makes getting as many players as they can in town for predraft workouts a must.

“You never know when you walk in the gym if that day is going to benefit you in the upcoming draft, or three years down the road, or in free agency eight years down the road,” Nuggets director of scouting Jim Clibanoff said.

The Nuggets most hope to impact free agency with this approach. Traditionally, the best Nuggets teams have been built through the draft and in trades. They have not been in the picture for big-money free agents, and the Nuggets want to change that. One way to gain ground is by enticing free agents to spotlight Denver as a destination city.

Chiefly, they want to nix experiences like this from Minnesota guard Zach LaVine, who as a draft prospect in 2014 was asked what he knew about Denver.

“I didn’t know too much,” he said. “I got to see downtown, and it was a surprise. I didn’t know Denver had a downtown area like that.”

The other part, naturally, is to put the organization on display.

“(General manager) Tim (Connelly) and Coach (Michael) Malone have done a great job of building culture,” Clibanoff said. “These guys come in here and want to show them Denver, the city, and they walk around and we have dinner and they look around like ‘This place is really cool.’ You talk to them about the weather and dispel the notions that this is some freezing climate. We’re promoting our brand to some extent for that.

“And again, it might not pay off now, but then word spreads amongst the young players. They’ll come here for a workout and text each other. … They’ll remember Denver as a place where they had a good experience with good people who are building something.”

The early reviews are positive. Several players have given high marks to the city and the franchise. Vanderbilt guard Wade Baldwin, a projected lottery pick originally from New Jersey, said Denver’s appeal extended beyond the nightlife and organization.

“Awesome city,” Baldwin said. “This is a really cool athletic environment around here with all of the different teams — lacrosse, baseball, football, basketball, soccer. It’s just awesome.”

Baldwin tweeted his instant attachment to the city the night before his predraft workout.

“The city of Denver is real smooth, great atmosphere athletically here …” he wrote.

When forward JaKarr Sampson was acquired by the Nuggets off waivers right after the trade deadline, he was pleasantly surprised by what he saw, but the sunny days made him smile the most.

“The weather is like this all the time?” Sampson said. “It’s crazy.

He wasn’t the only one.

“I love it here,” said D.J. Augustin, who is an unrestricted free agent after playing with the Nuggets last season. He hopes to re-sign with the team.

“I hope it works out,” he said.

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