NUGGETS

Nikola Jokic says he didn’t play much basketball this summer

Oct 2, 2023, 2:03 PM | Updated: Oct 3, 2023, 12:29 pm

DENVER—Michael Malone says he didn’t want to be a helicopter parent this summer and Josh Kroenke didn’t want to bother the highest-paid player in the NBA.

While parading, horse riding, rafting, drinking and dancing, Denver Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic was on his own in Serbia—aside from a few day trip by forward Aaron Gordon. Jokic appeared to be living it up, but there were a lot of activities to get in during such a short period of time.

“Nah, it’s the opposite,” Jokic responded when asked if he had the best summer of his career. “Because we played two and half extra months and recovering from that. It (the summer) was good. I had fun with it, I had more fun.”

The anti-work Nikola got back to Denver just hours before Nuggets media day to kick off the 2023-24 season. Sitting in front of the Larry O’Brien with Jamal Murray to his right, Jokic shared the happenings from the “quiet, boring life” he returned to in Sombor.

“The trip to Sombor was awesome, working with him a little bit and experiencing his lifestyle,” Gordon said. “Sombor is a beautiful town, his way of life is amazing. I can understand why he’s trying to get out of here… there’s no commute, you could walk from one side to the other in 35 minutes. In America it’s not like that, everything is so spread out. A portion of your work is just being in the car. The food is fresh, everything is calm.”

Gordon referenced Jokic’s rush to get back home after winning the title and while his frontcourt mate says the two got some work in while in the Balkans, Murray disputes this claim.

“A couple of times not much,” Jokic said of how much basketball he’s played this summer.

“No he didn’t,” Murray whispered as he shook his head vigorously.

The head coach, Malone, wasn’t concerned at all with where his two-time MVP’s game may or may not be.

“The greatest challenge for Nikola will be to continue to be vocal and be a leader. I’ve never needed to tell him to work on his lefty jump hook,” Malone said. “For years it was getting stronger and in shape. There’s always room for growth. Losing Jeff (Green) and Ish (Smith) they were important for our locker room. It can’t all be on Deandre (Jordan), KCP (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) and Reggie (Jackson.) I want Jamal and Nikola to take ownership of this team, and Nikola’s gotten better every year at being vocal.”

Malone stayed out of the way of the player’s offseason. The coach said he celebrated but quickly started looking forward to the coming season, worrying about how the moment of winning a title is gone and where the team can move forward.

“I made it a point to not be a helicopter parent. I didn’t want to go to Serbia, Canada or L.A. it was a short offseason and I trusted them to get their work in and we’ll find out in practice tomorrow if they did or not. I wanted to give them the room I thought they deserved after they gave what they did to this team and city.”

And Kroenke, who took a Cup home the prior summer, felt the same as Malone about the best way of moving forward was to soak it in.

“We exchanged texts yesterday for the first time in a few months,” Kroenke said. “The toll those few seasons took on him, the weight was immense. We all kind of left him alone and it was great to see him do a backflip into a river and dancing and enjoying life. On the biggest stage the world got to know Nikola the person and for him to reconnect with his family and who he is will only be a benefit for him and the Nuggets.”

Jokic is coming off maybe the best season of his eight-year career, finishing second for a third MVP trophy and leading the Nuggets to a title, winning a Finals MVP in the process. While his regular-season total numbers took a dip, he was more efficient and was a better passer. In the playoffs, he tallied nine and a half helpers a game to go with 13.5 rebounds and 30 points a night.

The Nuggets break for camp on Monday, which will start Tuesday in San Deigo. Their first game is three weeks from Tuesday, hosting the Los Angeles Lakers on ring night.

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