For a brief window between the acquisition of Aaron Gordon in late March and Jamal Murray’s season-ending ACL injury on in mid-April, the Denver Nuggets looked like legitimate title contenders.
“I bet there was a couple of moments where we kind of looked at our team and thought we had more than a puncher’s chance. We thought we legitimately could be a championship-level team,” said Tim Connelly, Nuggets president of basketball operations, during his season’s end press conference Friday.
Even after Murray’s injury on April 12, the Nuggets found a way to win 13 of their next 18 games heading into the postseason, where they would earn a first-round series win over the Portland Trail Blazers before being swept in Round 2 by the Phoenix Suns.
Amid a season unlike any other, with a compressed 72-game schedule and rigorous COVID-19 protocols, Connelly said he saw “clear improvement” from a team that went to the Western Conference Finals just a year ago.
“Obviously, we saw Nikola (Jokic) make a huge jump. We saw Michael (Porter Jr.) become a legitimate top-three option. We saw the inclusion of Aaron Gordon. I thought he really stabilized our defense, and I give him so much credit for being such a seamless fit among a pretty tight-knit roster,” Connelly said.
But while the Nuggets have an “excellent core” and an “excellent coaching staff,” Connelly said Denver needs to continue to make strides in a championship direction.
“I really like our foundation, but until we’re having this press conference after we win a championship, we’re falling short,” Connelly said.
Connelly said the club likely won’t really see its roster take shape until after the NBA Draft but that they “really enjoyed this group, and the more guys we can keep, the better.”
As for if Murray’s injury will play a part in how Nuggets attack the offseason, Connelly said he doesn’t think it’ll have “too much bearing” because he’ll be “back and better than every within the year.”
“The injuries aren’t ideal. It certainly is going to make some decisions that would probably have been a little more transparent or easy to decipher harder, but hey, it comes with the territory. So, we’ll figure it out,” Connelly said.
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