Masai Ujiri will be busy this summer. Not only does the Denver Nuggets' general manager have to get over another first-round playoff exit, he has to plan for the NBA draft, re-sign some key players, and figure out where his team is headed. Ujiri, who will be entering his third season as the team's chief decision-maker, seems undaunted—just don't tell him how exciting his team was last season. "We're not trying to be fun to watch," he says. "We're trying to win."
Ujiri met with the media late last week to discuss the Nuggets and the decisions that will confront the team before the 2012-2013 season. (Some of the Ujiri's comments have been condensed and edited for brevity.)
How he assesses this past season: "I think we struggled in the middle part. We started off strong, but the middle part, we obviously had the injuries. In terms of the young players, I think we can look at all of them and say, "I think there was improvement." We're happy, and we're proud that we have a staff that can develop players. We're looking forward to the offseason, the summer, to the summer league, to training camp to see what steps we can take to get better."
On the first-round loss to the Los Angeles Lakers: "It's always a disappointment and it takes a couple of days to sink in and to get over it. I think, like [Nuggets' president] Josh [Kroenke] has said, we're proud of our team, but I think it's time to start looking toward the future and see how we can get better and become more of a consistent, winning team. I look forward to one day when we compete for that championship. That's a goal of ours—and it will always be a goal of the organization. I think we can look at the season and take the positives and negatives and put everything together and then move forward. We're very proud of the team. We're proud of coach [George] Karl and what he's done. We're very happy with how the young guys have continued to grow."
On free-agent-to-be Andre Miller: "I had a great meeting with Andre Miller a couple days ago, and he told us—plain and simple—he wants to come back. I think Andre's comment was he wants to be respected as a veteran. And we feel he has to be respected. Andre even said to me that Ty helped him because the minutes he played took care of [Miller's] body. I think Andre is looking forward to being on our team. I think he likes the role. I can't discuss the contract, but that part will figure itself out. Do we want Andre back? Yes. He was great for our team. Andre's happy. He told me that; he told me that he wants to be in Denver. We'll try to figure it out."
On Gallinari's growth: "We had a great meeting with him. He's going to work over the summer. He got stronger from point A to point B; I think he was a little unlucky with injuries. Danilo is going to work. We have a good summer planned out. I think he's going to get stronger. He already got stronger from when he came [to Denver] to where he is now. I think he saw how much that helped him—but he was a bit unlucky [with injuries]. He's working on his game and he's improving."
On Faried's role: "The guy has shown us that he can play with the best of them. He plays hard and he runs. He's a jumper. He's aggressive. You hit him on the face and he comes back, and that's always going to survive in the NBA. The little things he has to work on, he's very, very committed to work on: get a little more consistent with the outside shot, maybe. Is it a couple of post moves? He has that hook shot he likes to go to—you could get a counter move to that. He rebounds. Blocked shots? He's going to be there. He's going to be among the top 10 players in dunks in the NBA. Those things you want in a player, and he's going to give them to you."
On JaVale McGee's progress: "I think we were happy [with McGee], but there's still a lot of work to do. He still has a long way to go. The kid loves to work. He loves basketball. That's kind of how we felt; there are some bad habits that we're going to have to change, but that's coaching and that's mentoring. And we feel we're in a position where we can help the kid. [The team's] style of play favors him: running, the lobs, rebounding, blocking shots, and creating opportunities."
On Chris "Birdman" Andersen and his legal issues: "We're going to evaluate that as we get more information. We don't have any comments for now. We've been in touch with Bird, and we'll have an exit interview with him. But in terms of what happened, there's limited information for now and that's where we are with it."
How will the next Nuggets team be different from the one that played this season? "In this job you try to evaluate where your team is, collectively. Ownership, Josh, our team, George—we feel like we're on the right track. We chose the route of picking players here and there who we feel have a chance to grow. The Gallinaris, the Wilson Chandlers, JaVale McGees, we feel like there's been a little growth. Add that to the players who were here before—Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo—and a couple veterans we have, Andre Miller and Al Harrington. It's been a good mix. I've always been a believer in how George coaches and the system here. We're not trying to be fun to watch. We're trying to win. I know everybody texts and sends us messages on how fun our team is to watch—but we're trying to win. We want to win a championship, and I think we're on the right path."