Daily Camera (Boulder)

A look at evolution of All-stars Jokic, Malone

- By Mike Singer msinger@denverpost.com

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone emerged from behind a black curtain long after Nikola Jokic had begun indulging questions from a throng of eager media members.

As Malone settled into the dais to Jokic’s right, he looked at several local media members and asked them where their loyalties were: with the fourth-longest tenured head coach in the NBA or with the twotime MVP.

It’s largely because of Jokic, who’s amid another record-setting season, that he and Malone were back on the All-star stage together for the first time since 2019. Back then, Jokic was a first-time All-star and not on the shortlist for the best player. While flying to Utah, Malone remarked there were a lot more kids running around than the first time they made the shared jaunt to North Carolina. Between his niece, nephew, and daughter, the Jokic clan has only grown.

“We’re a kind of big pack,” he said on the eve of his 28th birthday, which he wasn’t eager to celebrate.

“Hopefully it’s gonna go fast,” Joker quipped. “I get sad on my birthday. I’m getting old.”

The plane ride also offered a window into how deep their relationsh­ip has grown and how it’s evolved.

“It’s funny how life changes so quickly,” Malone said.

Malone said they talked about kids, family and Jokic’s future, understand­ing that basketball laid the foundation of their shared partnershi­p.

“He said coach, and he was being serious, ‘I’ll be a great assistant coach,’” Malone said. “He goes, ‘I don’t want to be a head coach because it’s too much BS.’”

Malone’s ears perked up, vowing to hire him if he ever got the chance.

“I can’t promise how much I’m gonna pay you,”

Malone quipped back.

Their relationsh­ip — forged in humor, accountabi­lity, honesty and success — has put the Nuggets on the precipice of the rarest of air in the NBA. It’s certainly nowhere near where they were in 2019, when Jokic was only beginning to tap into his immense potential.

“I think the thing that’s changed from the Charlotte time is I think now we’re seen in a different light,” Malone said. “Last five years, no one’s won more games than us (in the West), we have a two-time MVP — about to be a threetime MVP — and we’re the No. 1 team in the West by five games with 23 games to go. If that doesn’t bring you respect, I don’t know what will. The great thing about it is, we’re not worried about all that. We’re just focused on trying to bring a championsh­ip to Denver. That’s what motivates all of us.”

Beyond the championsh­ip, which is top of mind for everyone in Denver’s organizati­on, it’s the relationsh­ips within that that make it worthwhile. At Allstar practice Saturday afternoon, Malone held extended conversati­ons with Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-alexander (an ALLNBA candidate, according to Malone), Portland star Damian Lillard and injured forward Zion Williamson.

“It’s about relationsh­ips,” Malone said. “I don’t know Zion. I wanted to get to know Zion, talk to him, let him know I hope he gets healthy again.”

While some players showed off their shooting range at Saturday’s practice, Jokic wandered aimlessly around the court, unsure of what to do with himself. Part of the time he spent seated, chatting with Luka Doncic. At another moment, he plopped himself next to Nuggets assistant coach Ogi Stojakovic on the scorer’s table, indifferen­t to the noise and excitement surroundin­g him.

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