DENVER | Jamal Murray spotted his two-time reigning MVP teammate in the open and quickly hollered out to him.
“Grab me a grape,” the Denver Nuggets point guard said with Nikola Jokic breaking toward a fruit tray Monday at media day.
With that, Jokic dished out his first assist of the season.
Jokic will have his supporting cast back and healthy this season, with Murray feeling “night and day” better after missing all last year as he recovered from an ACL injury. Michael Porter Jr., too, after being limited to just nine games a year ago due to a balky back.
With the trade for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the signing of Bruce Brown, along with the growth of high-energy guard Bones Hyland, the Nuggets have high aspirations this season — even if they shy away from voicing it out loud.
“We know what we want to do,” said Brown, whose team begins training camp Tuesday in San Diego. “So it doesn’t need to be said.”
It all starts in the middle with Jokic, who signed a supermax extension in the offseason.
He’s trying to join the company of Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain as players who won the MVP trophy three straight seasons.
One area the Nuggets want to see him raise to another level — his vocal game.
“Everybody is waiting for him to say something,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “And when he does it has a profound impact.”
The quiet leader wants to be the “Tim Duncan of the Denver Nuggets,” Jokic said. “But I need win a couple of championships to be him.”
He’s got the crew around him to make a run.
Shortly after acquiring Aaron Gordon in March 2021, the Nuggets showed flashes of what they could do with a lineup consisting of Gordon, Murray, Porter and Jokic. They went 4-1 before Murray tore his ACL at Golden State. Last season, they lost Porter after the outside threat underwent another procedure on his back.
“I’m looking to build a chemistry with that,” said Gordon, whose team lost to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors in the first round last season. “It’s going to be nice to figure out … the flow of the game and who gets what, where and when, the how and why — we’ve still got to put all those questions together. It’s going be fun.”
Especially with Murray looking more like his old self.
“He’s got that confidence back. He’s got that swagger back,” Malone said. “Seeing him in our gym, playing with that confidence and chirping, has been fun to watch.”
Murray’s not putting expectations on his return. The Nuggets have missed the playoff version of Murray, who had two 50-point bursts in 2020 when the Nuggets made it to the Western Conference Finals.
“I’ve been taking one day at a time and everybody’s always asking me what’s it going to look like two months from now. I don’t know,” Murray said. “I’m on the right road.”
Same with Porter.
“Injuries, it just takes time, I would say, to have joy in the game again, no soreness or anything,” Porter said. “It’s good to be on the other side of it. I’m here now and I don’t have any limitations. I’m excited.”
In July, the Nuggets picked up Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith from Washington for Monte Morris and Will Barton. Caldwell-Pope is looking forward to working with Jokic, who is known for his no-look passes.
“So I will keep my eyes on him at all times,” Caldwell-Pope cracked.
To develop team chemistry, Jeff Green hosted an offseason camp in Miami for the younger players. In addition, Gordon had teammates over to his place for hoops and then some paintball.
“Both returning and new players and veterans understand the importance and the opportunity that we have,” Malone said. “You don’t want to waste that opportunity.”
Nuggets center DeAndre Jordan will wear No. 6 to honor the late Russell. It’s a number that has been retired by the NBA, but players who have worn it in the past are permitted to do so.
“Bill Russell was a great pioneer for not only the game of basketball but for off-the-floor things as well,” Jordan said.
Jack White, a 6-foot-7 forward from Australia, has been winning 3-point shooting contests in practice over the summer.
The top shooter on the team?
“I haven’t stepped into that yet,” Caldwell-Pope said of the contests. “For now he is…. I’m looking forward to competing — and taking the top spots.”