NUGGETS

Jamal Murray’s absence from the Nuggets lineup has gotten absurd

Apr 11, 2022, 6:00 AM | Updated: 6:31 am
Jamal Murray...
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)
(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)

Warning: This column might offend some people. It’s a little bit old-school. It’s not very sensitive. And it definitely is not all about the way things are done in 2022.

What’s the super-controversial, sure-to-make-people-mad, not-in-touch-with-modern-times opinion? Well, it’s simple…

Jamal Murray needs to get back on the basketball court.

The regular season ended last night for the Nuggets. Their star point guard missed all 82 games. No one saw this coming.

There was hope he’d return at the first of the year. Maybe at the All-Star break. Perhaps by March. At least before the playoffs.

Every deadline came and went. Still nothing.

It’s been nearly a year since Murray injured his left knee in a loss to the Warriors. On April 12 of last year, he went down late in a game at Golden State. He hasn’t played in a game since. That was 364 days ago.

Murray missed the final 18 games of the 2020-21 campaign. He also missed all 10 of the Nuggets postseason matchups last year. That’s a total of 110 straight games in street clothes. That’s absurd.

It’s always tricky when talking about an injury. Criticizing a player for not being on the court, field or ice is a risky proposition.

In part, that’s because no one knows for sure how the player is feeling. Only Murray knows how his knee is holding up.

Of course, that benefit of the doubt isn’t extended to everyone. Ja’Wuan James was perfectly content to collect millions from the Broncos while recovering from a knee injury. The team thought he was ready to play. The right tackle didn’t. No one gave him any leeway.

The Nuggets have stated that the player they inked to a five-year, $170-million contract is physically ready to play. His rehab has gone well and he’s fit to be back on the court.

Tim Connelly joined “The Drive” on Friday and said that the decision to play again is totally up to Murray. The Nuggets president of basketball operations made that clear.

“One-hundred percent,” Connelly said when asked if it was up to Murray as to when he’d return. “We’ve told Jamal this entire year, ‘We’ll tell you when you’re physically ready. And you got to tell us when you want to get out there.'”

Some interpreted that as the decision would be up to Murray at some point. They’d didn’t hear it as it was the guard who was choosing to not be on the floor right now.

Well, that notion went up in smoke on Sunday. Michael Malone said that his star guard is ready to play.

Before the Nuggets played a meaningless season finale against the Lakers, the head coach told reporters that he offered to let Murray play in the game. He was willing to let his star player get some court time in a low-stakes matchup.

Malone wouldn’t do that if Murray hadn’t been cleared physically. The head coach wouldn’t put forth that option if it was risky for the guard to be on the court.

At this point, there’s only one interpretation of the situation: The year-long hiatus continuing to drag on is on Murray. He’s the one deciding not to play.

The Nuggets have been supportive of his decision. Connelly was on Friday and Malone was yesterday.

“There’s going to be no rush; there’s no pressure,” the head coach said about the situation. “If (Murray) wants to go out there and play a couple of minutes in a game where there are no huge implications, great. If (he isn’t) ready to do so, great. Obviously, he’s not there yet.”

There’s not much else they can say. It doesn’t do the Nuggets any good to force Murray onto the court. That’s not going to end well. And it’s not in their best interests to create bad blood with one of their cornerstone players. That’s a good way to see promising, young core fall apart in a hurry.

So they’re in a pickle. The organization can’t say the truth. Instead, they have to dance around the issue, trying not to offend their 25-year-old guard.

“It’s a really big mental hurdle,” Malone offered in support of Murray. “He has good days and he has days that aren’t as good. That’s been very challenging mentally.”

That’s hard for any long-time sports fan to accept. That goes against the very nature of competitive sports.

Players are supposed to want to play. They’re supposed to do anything they can to be on the court, field or ice. They’re supposed to need others to step in and tell them not to rush back into action.

During the 1985-86 season, Michael Jordan missed all but 18 games due to a broken foot. Anyone who watched “The Last Dance” knows that he was ticked at the Bulls for slowing down his return; he didn’t like having his minutes monitored late in the season. He wanted to play. He wanted to help his team.

Where’s that mentality from Murray? If the greatest basketball player in the history of the game can come back from a major injury, get on the court and try to help his team, why can’t the Nuggets guard?

Murray has earned nearly $30 million this season. He has an obligation to the Nuggets to do his job if he’s physically able.

That’s what a professional would do.

Denver has managed to earn the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference despite being shorthanded. Murray owes it to his teammates to try to make their efforts not be for naught.

That’s what a good teammate would do.

Nowadays, those types of loyalties are scoffed at, however. It’s all about taking care of No. 1.

Forget about the organization. Nobody worries about a corporation.

Forget about the team. It’s all about doing what’s best for the individual.

That’s how the world works in 2022. That’s how people operate.

It’s not what Jordan, Magic, Bird or Kobe did. But it’s a new time. It’s the “load management” era of basketball. It’s a new generation.

Gone are the days of sacrificing for the team. They’re just stories from a woebegone era.

What would Jack Youngblood have done? He played in the Super Bowl with a broken leg.

What would Curt Schilling have done? He pitched in the American League Championship Series with a bloody, stitched up ankle.

What would Willis Reed have done? He limped onto the court and inspired his Knicks in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

Those moments made those players legends. Fans admire toughness. They applaud a willingness to fight through the pain. They respect people who are willing to put it all on the line for something bigger than themselves.

But that’s gone. It’s been replaced by the attitude the Nuggets have taken with Murray.

“Whenever he’s ready to come back, that’s when it will be,” Malone said on Sunday about his point guard. “Whether that’s in the playoffs or it’s next season, we’ll wait and see.”

Meanwhile, opportunities just keep passing by. Another MVP-caliber season from Nikola Jokic is about to be wasted.

But hey, why push it? Why do anything uncomfortable? Why think about anyone else?

Jamal Murray should be back on the basketball court. That’s what someone with championship mettle would do.

***

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Jamal Murray’s absence from the Nuggets lineup has gotten absurd