The offseason was shorter for the Denver Nuggets than it was for most NBA teams, but it lasted just long enough for the team’s two young stars to sneak in some important off-the-court stuff.
All-Star center Nikola Jokic had a more fun experience than co-star Jamal Murray. After losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals on Sept. 26 and leaving the NBA’s bubble in Florida, Jokic returned home to Serbia, where he married his longtime girlfriend, Natalija, in a small ceremony reserved for close family.
“Natalija did everything to be honest. I was just there as a witness. She makes everything happen,” Jokic said after finding and slipping on his new ring Thursday, the third day of preseason preparations.
“It was a good party. I can say that. The music was really good.”
Murray had a less enjoyable experience, returning home to Canada to get his wisdom teeth removed. The trip to the dentist did, however, allow the 23-year-old guard to spend the remainder of time with family and train his 13-year-old brother, who hopes to follow big brother’s path to the pros.
“I miss being with my fam,” Murray said. “I miss the down time. I don’t get to see them often. Some teams have had 10 months — they could’ve had a whole baby along the way — and we had 50 whatever, 60 days, two months.”
As Murray noted, teams who were not in playoff contention did not go to the bubble and effectively started their offseasons when Rudy Gobert’s positive COVID-19 test paused the league in March.
On the court, Denver’s shortened offseason featured the departures Jerami Grant (Detroit Pistons), Mason Plumlee (Detroit Pistons) and Torrey Craig (Milwaukee Bucks) in free agency. Grant figures to the biggest loss after averaging 12 points per game last season and defending opposing teams’ top wing. Grant opted for a reportedly bigger role with the Pistons than he would’ve had in a second season playing alongside Denver’s top duo.
“I can’t sit here and tell you I know what’s best for Jerami; I think Jerami can only figure that out for himself,” veteran forward Paul Millsap said ahead of his 15th NBA season. “If he feels like that’s the best decision for him, that’s the decision for him, and I support that.”
To fill Grant’s void, the Nuggets signed JaMychal Green away from the Clippers. The Nuggets ended the Clippers’ season after erasing a 3-1 deficit in the second round of the playoffs.
“He’s one of those power forwards you hate to go up against,” Millsap said of Green who shot 38.9% from 3 and grabbed 6.2 rebounds per game last season. “I didn’t like going against him when he was with the Clippers. When they subbed him in the game, it put a little bit more pressure on me to do stuff. I’m glad he’s on our side.”
Green with be joined by fellow free agency signings Facundo Campazzo, Isaiah Hartenstein and Greg Whittington and first-round draft picks Zeke Nnaji and R.J. Hampton. Playing time for those players could be harder to come by with most of the Nuggets' core group returning after consecutive playoff berths.
After the offseason wedding, Jokic’s focus for this season is getting closer to acquiring another ring.
“Just try to make a step forward or just try to kind of repeat the last year. That’s kind of my expectation,” he said. “My expectation is championship, of course, but we just kind of go slowly.”