Denver Nuggets’ player exit interviews: Three takeaways
Less than 24 hours after the Denver Nuggets season came to a close, the players were back at Pespi Center to clear their lockers, perform exit physicals and give their final remarks to the media.
With the Game 7 loss still fresh in most players’ minds, there was a lingering sense of "what if" that emanated from the Nuggets on Monday. Yet, there was also the expectation that this team will continue to trend upward as there is a belief most of the team’s young core has yet to hit their ceiling.
Nuggets.com looks at the biggest storylines to emerge out of the players’ final media availability.
Stick with the hand you got
If there was one shared belief on Monday, it was that the Nuggets don’t necessarily need to make major moves to remain a contender in the highly-competitive Western Conference.
“We could’ve won yesterday,” Jamal Murray said matter-of-factly. “We would have been in the Western Conference finals. We would’ve been a top four team and a contender…We lost [Game 7] by four.”
He added, “I think we’re contenders right now.”
Although the Nuggets won 54 games, secured a second seed and played in 14 postseason games, there’s still a national perception the young team has things to prove. As they did throughout this campaign, the Nuggets appear motivated to prove this season wasn’t an aberration.
Paul Millsap, a 13-year veteran, hopes he’ll have the opportunity to hoist the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy in the near future.
"From how I want to do it and how I want my story to be told, this is definitely the group that can help me do it [win a title],” Millsap said. It's been a dream and goal of mine. I see the drive in these guys to get better. I feel comfortable with that."
Juancho Hernangómez might have summed up the Nuggets’ situation best in his remarks on Monday morning.
“I think we’re remember this year [as the year] when the history is going to start,” he said. “I think after this year, the players want to go forward and farther…This [playoff] experience is going to make us better, make us grow and let’s be ready for next season.”
Nikola Jokić had a playoff debut for the ages as he averaged 25.1 points, 13.0 rebounds and 8.4 assists in the first round and semifinals. Although the 24-year-old is still upset about how the semifinals ended, he tried to focus on the positives on Monday.
“Just the fun that we had [this season].” Jokić replied when asked what he’ll remember about this campaign. “Winning those games, we won a lot of games so. Just to be around those guys, see everyone is getting better. Everyone is trying to make something happen.”
He added, “Winning is really fun. We won one series against San Antonio and that was really tough and fun. Then we had the really good series against Portland, it was fun but we didn’t win.”
READ MORE: Jokić’s impressive second round
Jokić acknowledged he plans to get away from basketball for a bit and return home to Serbia to enjoy a bit of horse racing. Then the focus will shift to improving on an impressive fourth year in the NBA, where the center got his first All-Star nod.
“Yes, [I will focus on improving] my body of course,” Jokić said. “We played 101 games – that’s a huge load.”
MPJ is raring to go
Michael Porter Jr. spoke with the media for the first time this season and his words were likely music to Nuggets fans’ ears.
“I feel so good. I've worked so hard every day with these guys and I feel like I'm a better player than I've ever been,” he said. "I just want to show that I'm back, feeling good, and ready to play."
Porter Jr.’s story is well-documented. He was the No. 1-ranked high school recruit when he committed to Missouri in 2017, but a combination of several injuries saw his draft stock fall until he was selected with the No. 14 pick by the Nuggets. This season has unofficially been a red-shirt year for Porter as he worked his way back. So far, his teammates have been impressed with what they’ve seen from the 20-year-old, which raise the anticipation for his debut in this year’s Summer League.
"I'm super eager, Mike's been talking all year,” Paul Millsap said. “I'll definitely be at the Summer League games. He's very confident in his game, and he should be. I like his mentality and approach to to the game. He's a confident player. He's got a lot of swag and sauce to him."
Apparently, Porter Jr.’s trash talking is already at NBA level as Nikola Jokić and Monte Morris shared the same sentiments as Millsap.
“Yes, I am [excited to see him play] because he’s talking a lot,” Jokić said. “To be honest, he’s good. He’s really talented, he’s really athletic, really big body. You can see the way how he’s working out and playing guys, you can see that he’s gifted also. You’re going to see when he starts playing for real.”
“He (Porter Jr.) is special for sure,” Morris added. “He can handle it, shoot it and he's 6'11". He's a freak athlete. The best thing about Michael is that he feels he's the best player on the court at all times, no matter who is out there. He carries that swagger about himself, so I feel it will be easy for him to adjust when he steps into the rotation because with that swagger, you will go out there and play confident.”