The Denver Nuggets currently hold the 8th playoff spot in the Western Conference. That fact may be surprising to some, but not head coach Michael Malone, who joined The Jim Rome Show on Wednesday and acknowledged that despite his team’s youth, they haven’t shielded away from making the postseason.
“Going back to training camp, we went into the season saying that we’d like to be a playoff team,” Malone said. “26 games to go and what a great opportunity, especially for all of our young players. We have one of the youngest teams in the NBA. We hope to make the playoffs, but we’re not going to mortgage our future just to be an 8 seed. That’s not our end goal. Big picture wise, we want to be a team that can ultimately win a championship, but for a guy like Jamal Murray, for instance, playing these meaningful games, playing these meaningful minutes, that’s only going to speed up his development and get him great experience that you really can’t put a dollar sign on.”
Malone said even with New Orleans, who currently holds the 9th spot in the Western Conference playoff standings, trading for DeMarcus Cousins it won’t force the organization out of their plan either. From owner Josh Kroenke, general manager Tim Connelly and himself, Malone was adamant that they share the same long-term vision.
“One thing we agree with is we are taking a big picture approach. We’re not just worried about beating out the New Orleans Pelicans out and being the 8th seed,” Malone said. “We’d love to make the playoffs, don’t get me wrong. It would be great experience for us. It’s been 3 years since this team has been in playoffs, but we also understand that when we step back and realize how many young players that we have, that we feel there are foundational pieces, you know. We’re not going to trade those players away just to be an 8 seed.
“This team, before I got here, they made the playoffs ten years in a row, only got out of the first round one of those years. Josh Kroenke wants to build a championship team, and we’re not going to just trade away key pieces just to make the playoffs this year, and I agree with that. I think we can make a run at it, I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for all of us. It would be exciting basketball, but more importantly, I think our future is really, really bright with the young pieces that we have.”
One of those young pieces is big man Nikola Jokic. Malone said when he first ran into the Serbian in the 2015 Las Vegas Summer League, he had no idea that the 22-year-old would be this good.
“I thought Nikola Jokic was a nice young player, I never envisioned him being the player he is right now, which is one of the best big men in the NBA,” Malone gloated. “I give him a lot of credit to your point, after Summer League ended, he stayed in Denver and committed himself to getting in the best shape of his life he lost close to 30 pounds, lived in the gym and as his rookie year went on, there was one game in particular at San Antonio against Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, a very good team. He gets 26 points, 13 rebounds, and at that point in time, I realized I have to start playing him more because this kid has a lot of potential and a chance to be a special player. And the fact that he had a great summer going down to the Olympics, winning a silver medal and then coming back into year two and even getting better, and being more consistent, he’s been phenomenal to watch.
“You look at our last 19 games, were 11-8. He’s averaging 23 points a night, 11 rebounds and close to 6 assists, those kind of numbers not many players can put up on a daily basis, so hell of player, and a great young man. We’re happy to have him.”