Rest and relaxation started almost as soon as the offseason did for Nuggets coach Michael Malone and star center Nikola Jokic.
“We lose Game 4 to Phoenix, and one of the neatest things about Nikola Jokic is this: I’m done with my meeting with (media) and he’s getting ready to come on, and he said ‘Hey coach, before you leave, I’ll come downstairs, and we’ll have a beer together,’” Malone recalled during an end-of-season media availability Friday. “So we wound up hanging out for like two hours after that game and talking about this season, talking about the summer, talking about his horses, talking about everything.”
After that conversation - which included Josh Kroenke, a member of the ownership group – the Nuggets raced to get back to normal. Jokic celebrated his Most Valuable Player season with a trip home to Serbia where he was recorded riding a chariot horse. Malone wasted little time getting his family out to New York to see his parents.
“That was, for me, priority No. 1,” Malone said. “You can talk. You can text. You can FaceTime. You can Zoom, but nothing replaces giving your mother and father a hug. That was good for me, good for my wife but also really good for my two daughters. I want them to know my parents. I want them to know and have memories of their grandparents, so that was really important from a personal level to me and my family.”
The Nuggets coach hoped many of his players would follow he and Jokic’s lead. Malone is also planning a trip to Las Vegas where he can finally watch his youngest daughter’s volleyball team compete at nationals. He’s not ruling out a trip to see some of his players as he’s done in years past, but if that happens, it will come late.
“It’s time to give some of our players some space. We had a long grind … in the bubble, a quick two-month turnaround and then right back at it for this year,” Malone said.
“There’s a chance that I’ll wind up doing something later on this summer, but right now, I want all of our players to get away, to decompress, to spend time with their family, their friends, their loved ones and then we can figure that stuff out.”
While the offseason started with some time away from basketball, there is going to come a time for that. Malone said he wanted Will Barton III back and hoped lead assistant Wes Unseld Jr. moved on to a head coaching gig. Denver’s president of basketball operations Tim Connelly previously echoed both sentiments. Malone added he hoped to see PJ Dozier and Zeke Nnaji, two young members of the Nuggets core, back and better and mentioned there will be discussions about how to get Jokic some rest next season. The Nuggets coach also vowed to review his own performance this season in hopes of eventually bringing a championship to Denver.
The offseason started, however, with a conversation that seems to reflect the Nuggets’ culture.
“When I went home that night, I said ‘Man, we’ve got a really unique set up here.’ We’re all disappointed we lost,” Malone said. “No one was happy, especially getting swept on our home court, but to have an owner and an MVP who are just so down to earth and committed to doing whatever it takes to better and find ways to win a championship. Those two hours were so important.”