Afflalo brings leadership, all-around game back to Denver
At this rate, the next time Ty Lawson wakes up from an afternoon nap the Nuggets might have Alex English and David Thompson back on their roster.
Last week, Lawson woke up to the news that big man Nene had reached a new contract agreement. On Monday, he arose from his slumber to hear that shooting guard Arron Afflalo was returning to the fold.
“Every time I wake up, somebody’s signing,” Lawson joked Tuesday.
Lawson can rest more comfortably now that the Nuggets secured their top two free agents, Nene and Afflalo, in a seven-day span. Afflalo inked his five-year contract Tuesday and was eager to make up for lost time; his teammates went through 11 days of training camp while he finalized his deal.
“I had to respect the process of being a free agent,” Afflalo said. “The timing with training camp starting probably made it seem a little more difficult. I always anticipated being a Nugget. I got my true first opportunity to flourish as a player here. I’m forever grateful for that.”
Afflalo, 26, averaged career-highs in points (12.6), rebounds (3.6) and assists (2.4) last season and earned a reputation as a tenacious perimeter defender. His otherwise banner season ended on a disappointing note when a hamstring injury slowed him at the end of the regular season and the playoffs.
The Nuggets missed Afflalo’s leadership and versatility when he sat out the first two games of their first-round matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The 4-1 series loss left Afflalo hungry for redemption, but his return to the court was delayed by the NBA’s labor negotiations and his first experience with free agency.
“It was difficult (waiting),” he said. “I suffered a small injury towards the end of last season. Having to be patient through that process and then be patient through the process of the lockout and then having to be patient through this process had me itching to play every single day. I’m just glad to be here, be home and get to work.”
Afflalo was in uniform but did not play in Denver’s preseason game Tuesday night. He plans to practice Wednesday in advance of Thursday’s final exhibition game against the Phoenix Suns. Nuggets coach George Karl will be happy to have his personal security blanket back in the starting lineup.
“I never thought Arron would ever become this valuable to this basketball team,” Karl said. “Even two years ago when he first got here, I couldn’t take him off the court because he held the things together so well. Last year, he became even better than that and become the leader of the team after the (Feb. 22) trade.”
Entering his fifth season, Afflalo will continue to take on more responsibility on the court and in the locker room. Remarkably, only four Nuggets – Al Harrington, Andre Miller, Chris Andersen and Nene – have more NBA experience.
“Arron means a lot to our organization with what he brings both on the court and off the court,” Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said. “We look forward to his upside and being a leader on this team.”
Afflalo’s return capped a chaotic, but successful, two weeks for Ujiri and team president Josh Kroenke. In the days after adding rotation players Corey Brewer and Rudy Fernandez in a trade with Dallas, they fulfilled their primary objective of re-signing Afflalo and Nene.
“We have to create a culture here,” Ujiri said. “Our free agents can create this culture and this atmosphere and system here to make Denver a place where players want to come and play. These guys are very valuable to the organization, and they are very skilled players. Rather than go out and find players like them, I think you keep the ones you have.”