Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic asked to come off bench before Jusuf Nurkic was traded
The Denver Nuggets were avidly looking for answers at the start of the 2016-17 season, hoping to pair two skilled big men in Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, kickstarting a twin tower experiment in the frontcourt. While coach Mike Malone ultimately decided to make Jokic his starter at center, relegating Nurkic to the bench, it was Jokic who initially asked to come off the bench in efforts to help his team at a time of need.
“Nikola came to me and said, ‘I don’t want to start anymore,’” Malone recalled, according to Nick Kosmider of The Athletic. “‘This is not going well. It’s hard on me.’ He was emotional about it. It was a really good conversation because it was an open, honest and candid conversation. So I brought Nikola off the bench for a while.”
That didn’t work much better, as Malone soon realized he wasn’t tapping the best out of both players and needed to flip things around.
“Jok’s game was struggling, but Jok is the kind of guy who’s not going to say something,” said forward Will Barton. “He’s going to do what’s best for the team. You could tell it was bothering him, and that’s why he told Coach to put him on the bench, initially. We struggled once he did that.”
The choice was evident, to bench Nurkic and start Jokic on his lonesome at center, no longer clouding the blocks and giving more agile wings the ability to step out on the perimeter.
The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers three months later, with his value taking a dip after rumors of his unpleasant interactions with Malone, not knowing Jokic was the one willing to sacrifice his future for the betterment of the team.