Arron Afflalo sees opportunity for Nuggets to do something special

Guard excited about reunion in return to Denver
by Aaron Lopez

When Arron Afflalo scans the Nuggets’ roster, he sees more than just talent. From top to bottom, he sees stories of character and perseverance.

Forward Kenneth Faried was raised by two moms and is an advocate for LGBT rights.

Forward J.J. Hickson lost his mom to kidney failure when he was in the seventh grade but succeeded under the guidance of his grandmother.

Guard Randy Foye was 3 when his father was killed in a motorcycle accident; his mom disappeared and was presumed dead two years later.

Coach Brian Shaw adopted his niece and raised her as his own after his parents and sister were killed in a car accident in 1993.

“I feel like when you have a combination of a coach and players of the same character and caliber, there’s opportunity for something special,” Afflalo said during his introductory press conference Monday at Pepsi Center.

“If you look at the history of champions, it’s not necessarily the highest level of talent all the time. It’s the guys who know how to play together and have been through things that make them really deep-rooted in their passion to win games. I look forward to playing with those guys.”

Afflalo, who grew up in Compton, Calif., is a high-character guy himself. He is often the last player to leave the practice court, and he always puts team success ahead of individual statistics.

Those traits – along with his ability to defend and knock down 3-pointers – were among the primary reasons the Nuggets acquired Afflalo from the Orlando Magic last week in exchange for guard Evan Fournier and the draft rights to second-round draft pick Roy Devyn Mable.

“Arron is a guy we’ve long targeted,” Denver general manager/executive vice president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said. “He’s a guy that every year has gotten better. He has a work ethic and competitive drive that we’re all trying to look for.

“Certainly he’s a guy with prior success here that will make the transition even easier. As good as he was two years ago, he’s only improved. I think he’s coming back here at the peak and point of his career where he’s ready to win at the highest level. He’s a guy who allows us to do that.”

Afflalo spent three seasons in Denver from 2009-12 before being traded to the Orlando Magic as part of a four-team deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers and brought Andre Iguodala from Philadelphia to the Nuggets.

Two years later, the coach has changed, the front office has changed and many of the players have changed, but Afflalo felt a sense of familiarity as he joined team president and governor Josh Kroenke at Monday's press conference.

“Josh is the constant, of course,” Afflalo said, “but I’m happy to be here with Tim. I still have a few teammates here that I played with my last year here. I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone.”

Afflalo averaged a career-high 18.2 points in his second season with the Magic in 2013-14, but Orlando missed the playoffs for the second straight year.

Now back in Denver, Afflalo doesn’t have to shoulder the scoring load as he plays alongside proven offensive threats such as Wilson Chandler, Foye, Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson.

“It’s not important to me (to be the leading scorer),” Afflalo said. “I’ve come from a situation where that was pretty much the case on most nights and there wasn’t a whole lot of fulfillment in that.”

Hindered by injuries across the board, the Nuggets didn’t find much fulfillment themselves last season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003. With a return to health and Afflalo back in the fold, Denver is looking to change its fortunes next season.

“I followed Arron’s career since he left here and I was proud to see him doing the things that he was doing down in Orlando,” Kroenke said. “It was a very good feeling to be able to hop on the phone and tell Arron he was coming back to Denver.

“We’re excited for what he can bring to our team and excited for the person we’re getting back as well.”