The answers from a group of Denver Nuggets who opted-in, in varying degrees, to the franchise’s future this offseason were similar Thursday.
Will Barton III, Aaron Gordon, Austin Rivers and Jeff Green entered the offseason with different individual situations, but all made the choice to join or stick with the Nuggets as they attempt to figure out how far this core can go. They cited the potential to win a championship while playing a fun brand of basketball for a group of coaches and executives who have established a team-first culture.
Gordon was the only one of the four under contract for the upcoming season but inked a four-year extension with Denver after playing with the Nuggets for only a few months at the end of the season. He had plenty of reasons why he passed on entering free agency next summer.
“Oh man, it’s a long list,” Gordon warned before diving in. “I don’t know where to start between the coaching staff, the culture, the players, the role that I have with the team, where I’m at in my career, the trust that Tim (Connelly) and Calvin (Booth) put in me, really the management, as well, and ownership. They trusted me. They want me here, and I want to be here. It’s just a great organization. I’m looking forward to putting in an entire year’s worth of work and then some.”
Green, who played with the Brooklyn Nets last season, and Rivers, who joined the Nuggets amid a rash of injuries late in the regular season, were free agents who signed with Denver this summer.
“From the outside looking in, from my perspective, this organization and the players that were here, it was an egoless team. They play hard. They play for each other. The environment is always good. The front office, the rep is good. Having a chance to be a part of that, that’s what you look for,” Green said.
“You want to alleviate all nonsense. You want to alleviate all, you know, negative energy when you’re coming into a situation. Coming into this situation, I felt it was all positive. It was all good energy, so it was a no-brainer for me to sign on that line and come here and be a part of it.”
Rivers recognized a natural fit in the locker room last season and was attracted by the opportunity to run it back with a group of guys with championship goals.
“I fit in with the guys culturally, and we have a great team. We have a chance to do something. This is a team that can go all the way, possibly,” Rivers said.
“So to be a part of something like that and have a role on this type of team is something you can’t pass up.”
Barton declined a player option, effectively becoming a free agent, before agreeing to a multi-year deal with the Nuggets. JaMychal Green did the same. Barton maintained he wanted to stay in Denver for reasons similar to the others.
“If we’re healthy, we feel like we can win it (all),” Barton said. “So I think everyone wanted to be back and be a part of that. That just speaks to the talent we have, the coaching staff, the front office.”
Entering his 10th NBA season, Barton said he’s starting the season healthy for the first time in a couple of seasons with 10 pounds of additional muscle on his frame. Gordon added he’s feeling and playing better after finishing last season with a bothersome ankle. He preferred to chase a championship instead of a paycheck this season.
“Instead of working toward a monetary goal, we’re working to a collective team goal. That’s a trophy,” Gordon said. “That’s a beautiful thing, being able to just narrow my focus. That’s going to help my play, and it’s going to help pick up the team.”
Green credited good genes and a healthy diet to his lack of injuries over a 13-year NBA career, while Rivers looked forward to getting his career back to where he believes it should be in his first full season in Denver.
“It’s a fun place to play basketball. We’ve got a lot of willing guys that like playing the right way. It’s always about the team. Nobody’s ever above that. You’ve got a coach that’s fun to play for. Denver’s obviously a cool city,” Rivers said.
“We’ve got a team that can do something possibly special this year, and you don’t get a lot of opportunities like that. I’ve had very few in my career.”
While the individual situations varied, the quarter seemed to believe something special was on the horizon in coming seasons.
“We’re all in good situations, and I think pretty much all of us feel like it’s unfinished business,” Barton said. “We really feel like we have the pieces in place to be a championship team.”