DENVER (AP) – Typically, Masai Ujiri likes to tinker with his team at the trade deadline.
The Denver Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations rarely sits this one out, orchestrating a blockbuster trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York two years ago and landing athletic big man JaVale McGee from Washington last season.
This time, though, Ujiri figured the best deal for his young team was simply not to make one.
Sure, he listened to offers. And yes, he even pitched a few.
But Ujiri decided to give the Nuggets an opportunity to develop this season instead of disrupting their growth with a splashy move.
Speaking after the deadline Thursday, Ujiri said he doesn’t think this squad is quite ready to be a “contending team,” but given time they could turn into one, especially with emerging players such as Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried leading the way.
That’s why he elected to leave them be for now. They’re currently fifth in the Western Conference.
“Nothing tickled us,” Ujiri said of the trade proposals. “We need to be patient as a team and an organization, to grow a little bit. Just see how it goes.”
That’s fine with coach George Karl. He likes this team. So he was quite pleased to have all these pieces still in place.
“With young players, there’s a confidence that comes with familiarity and continuity,” Karl said. “There’s a confidence that comes with being in a system, knowing what the coach wants, his philosophies on the court. More than anything, I think we’re trying to build an organization and a team that people want to be around, and people want to be here. I think we’re doing all of that pretty well.”
Still, the morning led to some anxious moments for several Denver players.
To keep relaxed, Andre Iguodala did what he usually does — stayed long after practice was over to shoot jumpers. It seems like his name always surfaces at the trade deadline.
“It’s really hard,” said Iguodala, who was acquired by Denver in a four-team, 12-player deal in August. “It’s like being transferred from a job. You’ve got to pick up and leave for somewhere else. New surroundings. You don’t know anyone. Yeah, you might have money, but if you truly love the game, it’s really not about that. It’s about going out there, performing and just enjoying the game.”
“I guess you take it as a good thing,” Iguodala said. “It makes you feel like you’re wanted.”
Timofey Mozgov saw his name surface in trade speculation as well and would’ve been open to a deal, simply to get more playing time. The Russian center doesn’t see much court time playing behind McGee and Kosta Koufos.
Only, Ujiri wasn’t about to part with Mozgov.
“Big guys take a long time to develop. We understand that,” Ujiri said. “We’ve seen his progress. We haven’t seen the end with him. … We feel like he can get better.”
Holding back was a big decision for Ujiri.
“We feel we’re at a stage where we will leave them to grow,” he said. “If you bring something in here that’s not making a big difference, then you’re messing with a couple of guys and their growth. We felt that standing pat is the best way to go. We’re the third-youngest team in the NBA. We feel like these guys are growing. We feel like from the beginning of the season to now, we’ve made some progress.”
Now if only someone would emerge as a locker-room leader.
“That’s something this team has to get stronger at, instead of me being the policeman of the team all the time,” Karl said.
While he’s at it, Karl wouldn’t mind another consistent shooter, either. Someone like, well, Gallinari, who’s steadily becoming more dependable.
“I don’t think there’s any question that shooting the ball is something that we have to examine somewhere along the way,” Karl said. “Statistically, a lot of the formulas we study, they say if we shot the ball better we’d be tremendously efficient.”
Still, the Nuggets boast one of the best home records (23-3) in the league.
“I honestly think we have a pretty good team,” Iguodala said. “If we improve and continue to be on the incline, as far as our basketball IQ, and continue to grow with one another, we’re going to be a really good team and we’ll be scary.
“We’ll continue to fly under the radar, but it’s really up to us to believe in each other and keep playing.”
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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