Denver Nuggets’ Michael Malone End of Season Presser: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets season came to an end just under two weeks ago, but Michael Malone is already thinking of ways his team can improve heading into the next campaign.

That was the sentiment of the head coach’s end of the season presser, a focus on the desire to keep evolving. He pointed to numerous examples of where the Nuggets have improved culturally and tactically during his six years as head coach. Yet, he also pointed to the need for rest. The past two seasons have been mentally challenging for NBA teams, ranging from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to racial tensions in America. So Malone also insisted that the biggest priority this offseason will be allowing his players to recalibrate during their downtime.

“Right now, I want all of our players to decompress, spend time with their family, friends, and their loved ones,” Malone said. 

Malone touched on several topics, including Will Barton III’s future, his “round” with Nikola Jokić, and his plans for the offseason. Here are the takeaways from his presser:

Coach wants Thrill back

Will Barton III had on and off issues with injury this season, but he proved his value whenever he was on the court. In limited action in the postseason, Barton III averaged 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists while shooting 44.2 percent from the field in just 27.7 minutes per game. Barton III has a player option he could exercise this offseason and Malone hopes he’ll see his veteran swingman remain with Denver.

“If you’ve looked at our six-year progression, what we’ve been able to accomplish, Will Barton is definitely a big part of that,” Malone said Friday. “I would love Will Barton to be back.”

Malone pointed to Barton III being on the team throughout his entire tenure and mentioned his intangibles that extend way beyond his playing performance. The 30-year-old’s off-the-court leadership could be seen in the first round of the playoffs when he was still recovering from a hamstring injury. Throughout the matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers, Barton III was encouraging players on the sidelines, celebrating big buckets and hustle plays. In the locker room, he was as boisterous as any member of the team after the team’s Game 6 win in Portland to clinch the series. It’s a presence Malone hopes will be in the Mile High City moving forward.

“He means a ton to me personally, he means a ton to this team,” Malone said.

Wes Unseld Jr. deserves a shot at top spot

Nuggets associate head coach Wes Unseld Jr. has been linked with several head coaching jobs in the past, but Malone believes this is the year the highly-touted coach will get his chance.

“Wes Unseld Jr. doesn’t get enough credit, in my opinion, [for the Nuggets’ recent success],” Malone said.

Although Unseld Jr.’s potential departure would be a loss for the Nuggets’ coaching staff, Malone knows it’s a well-deserved opportunity for the coach.

“It will be a huge loss for me, but I wouldn’t be more happier for Wes,” Malone said. “Wes has a tireless work ethic, he’s in the office at 6 a.m. and he’s the last one to leave. I’m not saying that to make him sound good. If you ask anyone around the building, they will agree with that.”

“He’s very educated, great communicator, knows his stuff, and has a unique way of relating to players.”

Family reunited

With the season coming to an end, Malone revealed he had a chance to finally see his parents in New York City after almost two years. Although the Nuggets had a trip to the Big Apple early in the season, Malone couldn’t see his family due to restrictions created by the pandemic and the lack of vaccine at the time.

“My parents are not young, so that was priority No. 1,” Malone explained. “You can talk, you can text, you can Facetime, you can Zoom, but nothing replaces giving your mother and father a hug.”

“It was really important from a personal level for me and my family to go visit my folks in New York. That right away, kind of grounds you and brings you back to reality.”

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