DENVER (AP) — Even as Masai Ujiri accepted the NBA’s executive of the year trophy from club President Josh Kroenke on Thursday, the Denver Nuggets general manager said he would have given it up gladly in exchange for a deep playoff run.
“It’s a little bittersweet for me,” Ujiri said at a news conference a day after the Nuggets’ George Karl took the trophy for coach of the year. “I would trade that to be playing right now.”
Ujiri, the first African-born GM in major American sports, built the Nuggets team that won an NBA franchise-record 57 games and went an NBA-best 38-3 at home before going down in the first round.
“There was an unbelievable energy in this city and that’s why we had kind of a little disappointment when we lost to the Golden State Warriors, who’s not such a bad team from what they are doing right now,” Ujiri said. “We hope to kick their butts next year but they’re not too bad right now. We understand we are a growing team. We knew there were going to be pains. This is part of the process and we’ll continue to grow.”
Ujiri assembled a team that had nine players average between 8 and 16.7 points and the city, the Nuggets’ fans and the organization embraced the club’s persona as a team without a superstar that nevertheless got the job done.
Until the third-seeded Nuggets were beaten in six games by the sixth-seeded Warriors, led by their fast-rising star, Stephen Curry.
Ujiri said that after the Nuggets’ first-round exit, his disappointment was so keen he didn’t even watch basketball for several days. He finally tuned in Wednesday night to watch an NBA playoff game and came to the office Thursday recharged, spoiling to get started on next season.
“We’ve got work to do,” he said. “I think we’re beginning to get over our emotional state. You know what? You have to move on.”
Ujiri said he’s confident his deal, which expires in the summer, will be renewed or extended.
“Josh and I continue to have conversations. I’m very positive that things will work out,” he said.
And he said a top offseason priority will be to lock up Andre Iguodala with a long-term deal.
“He’s a great kid and I think he’s great for our basketball team,” Ujiri said. “There’s a lot he brings to our program and we’re proud of him and the year he had. We hope we auditioned ourselves well for him. It’s going to be his decision, but we’ll do everything on our part as an organization. We want him back.”
He vowed the Nuggets will be back for another playoff run next season.
“Our goal is to be better and to be better in the playoffs, and we’re going to do everything we can to get there,” he said.
Ujiri totaled 59 points and received eight first-place votes from a panel of his fellow team basketball executives throughout the league. The Los Angeles Clippers’ Gary Sacks finished second with 28 points (three first-place votes) and the Houston Rockets’ Daryl Morey and the New York Knicks’ Glen Grunwald finished tied for third with 25 points (four first-place votes).
Ujiri, who spent three years with the Toronto Raptors before joining the Nuggets, was named to his current position on Aug. 27, 2010. He worked for the Nuggets organization as a scout from 2003-07, and served as the team’s director of international scouting during the 2006-07 season.
Ujiri’s predecessor, Mark Warkentien, won the honor in 2009. Denver’s Vince Boryla also won the award in 1984-85.