DENVER | Jamal Murray is conflicted.
The Nuggets’ star guard can’t wait to get back to playing basketball like he did before that awful night in San Francisco last April when his left knee buckled as he drove past Andrew Wiggins, ending his season and ultimately quashing Denver’s championship aspirations.
Yet, Murray insists he’s in no hurry to rush back into action from his torn ACL lest he risk a setback and extend his hiatus from competition that weighs so heavily on him. He’s given fans some tantalizing tidbits of what the future may hold during his slow rehabilitation from his torn ACL.
He drained 3-pointers during warmups before playoff games, then cheered, coached and cajoled teammates from the bench and sometimes even bolted past coach Michael Malone to give officials an earful.
The Nuggets recently tweeted a video of Murray draining a corner 3, then slow-motion prancing down the baseline with a big smile and stepping deliberately so as not to stress his sleeved left knee.
“Just five months ago, I couldn’t lift my leg off the bed,” said Murray. “So, I’ve come a long way. But even when I do certain things, I’ve got to remind myself that I can’t do it to the speed or the level that I want to do it.
“That’s the biggest thing for me coming back, is having confidence in it. You’ll see a lot of videos of me playing 1-on-1, me scoring at a high clip, but that doesn’t mean it feels the way I want it to feel,” Murray said. “That’s just going to come with time. And I can’t rush time.”
And the Nuggets won’t rush Murray.
“He’ll come back when he’s ready,” said Tim Connelly, the team’s president of basketball operations. “Not when we tell him, not a date on the calendar.”
So, the Nuggets enter the season with the same mindset they adopted the day after Murray got hurt: they’ll all share the load until their sparkplug returns.
It worked last year as they went 13-5 after Murray’s injury, then beat Portland in the playoffs before losing to Phoenix.
“And now as we start this new season. I think that has to be the same mindset,” Malone said. “It is by committee.”
Murray will be right there cheering them on.
“I plan to make most of the trips,” Murray said. “Obviously, I still swell up when I fly or I’m not as loose the next day when I go to lift. Certain flights or one-game road trips I might not make, but for the most part I’ll be with the team and I’ll be doing scouting reports for the team like pregame and stuff.
“I’ll kind of be like a player/coach out there. I’ll be bouncing around everywhere. I’m looking forward to that aspect of it.”
April will mark a year since he got hurt and that seems like a decent guess as to when Murray will return. But he’s going to go more by feel and faith than any date.
“I want to feel good when I come back. I don’t want to come back when I’m 85% no matter where the team’s at,” Murray said. “I want to come back when it feels like I can play with the same amount of force that I normally play with. I don’t want to be babying it at all or overthinking at all. I want to be naturally in my head where I can play without any pain, play without any second thought.”
Murray said it’s not the grueling physical nature of his rehab that’s hardest but “just not being on the court.”
Murray is usually the first player to arrive at Ball Arena and the last to leave.
“I’m here the longest,” he said. “I go do lower body lifts. I do upper body lifts. Then I run a little bit. Then I shoot. And after that, I’m the last one in the gym. So, my day’s kind of full.”
Michael Porter Jr., who was in Murray’s position a couple of years ago when he had back surgery and missed an entire season, said the process will only make Murray better.
“Yeah, especially just being in the basketball environment every single day,” Murray said. “I get a chance to work on my shot every single day. It’s kind of like Mike and I switched roles now. He watched me play when he had to redshirt and now I’m the one who gets to watch him have a chance to blossom and make the mistakes and fix the mistakes and score 40 or 50 points.
“So, when I come back we can all click and be better versions of ourselves.”