Takeaway quotes from the Drew & Scott interview with Masai Ujiri

Yesterday, Drew Goodman and Scott Hastings of Drew & Scott on Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan had an extensive interview with Nuggets executive Masai Ujiri, who was in Houston, where JaVale McGee is currently training with Hakeem Olajuwon. (On Twitter, please follow Drew here: @ROOTSPORTS_DG, and Scott here: @ScottHastings). They talked about the Andre Iguodala trade and The Dream’s work with McGee and Kenneth Faried.

Before reading further, please be sure to listen to their original broadcast here, as the transcribed quotes below are  only a fraction of of their discussion, and of course in writing much of the personal feel of the conveersation is lost. That said, in addition to listening to the interview, it does seem worthwhile to see some of what Ujiri said in writing, as he conveyed a lot of information rather quickly, and much of it is worth a closer look.

Excerpts from Ujiri’s answers* in the interview are after the jump:

On how Iguodala is an upgrade who will improve the Nuggets:

We as a team have studied teams that play the way we do. Phoenix did it, even in the past some other teams have done it, we do it. The one thing I think we struggle with is defense, and we thought bringing in a defensive minded player would kind of affect the athletes that we have. We do have good athletes and we do have good players that have potential to be good at defense. We’re always going to score.., we’re always going to be tough for the way George Karl coaches, but defensively we have to stop somebody. We can’t be 19th in the league on defense and think we want to make a jump. So I think that was where the upgrade was. We feel Iguodala is going to be able to score a little bit more because of the way we play. I think the Sixers played more of a halfcourt game and they played more in a halfcourt setting. We go up and down, and that’s his game. He likes to find people, he likes to make plays, he likes to attack the rim, and that’s how he plays. So I think on both sides we have somebody that can playmake for some of our other players and… an elite defender that’s going to help us be better on defense.

On what he saw and heard from others about Iguodala at the Olympics:

Even in that setting when he was playing with a bunch of superstars he came into the game and really changed a couple of games, like just defensively really jumping people and attacking guys on the wing, and rebounding and running, and just being versatile. I think he’s going to bring that to us and our system even fits him more than the rest of the places he’s played. So he’s going to show that on the Denver Nuggets, but I think the most important thing is he’s going to affect our players, too. If you bring a guy in like Faried, Faried affects people with his energy, he gets guys going, you can see it’s contagious out there. It’s going to be the same thing with Iguodala and we’re really excited about that.

On whether he was concerned about helping the Lakers get better:

No, there was no concern at all because there was a three-way trade, and when we… poked into it, it was already a deal that was going to get done. He was coming west anyway, and I think that we all knew that… So he was coming here, and they told me where they were, and they were looking to see if there was a fourth team to join… I have to be worried about the Denver Nuggets. We have to be worried about making the Denver Nuggets better. I think those teams are always going to be good, and we will try to compete. And we’re going to try to get to a level where one day we’re competing with those guys, and I think Iguodala is a good piece to take a step forward.

On JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried training with Hakeem Olajuwon:

I just came back from watching JaVale work out with Hakeem. I watched him all morning, and it was great. It was fun to see Hakeem again, and it was fun to see him go to work. And Amare Stoudemire and JaVale were in there. Kenneth Faried is in rookie transition this week and he gets here next week Monday to start his work here with Hakeem. but it’s fantastic to see Hakeem teach and to see JaVale try to absorb and try to learn. So I think he will keep working hard. As soon as he was done, Melvin picked him up and took him to John Lucas’ gym to go play pick-up basketball. And so he’s putting the time in, he’s dedicated to it, and it’s impressive to see and we’re very happy. And a lot of our players have taken this summer, in fact all of them have taken this summer very serious and we’re proud of them, and we’ll keep working getting ready for training camp.

On his hopes for JaVale working with Hakeem:

I think [McGee’s] game has to slow down a little bit in terms of learning the game, in terms of making use of space, in terms of playing more controlled. Even when he plays fast, he has to be controlled. I think JaVale just has to learn how to play a little bit more. He has all the abilities. Hakeem told me he’s just amazed at his physical abilities and his athletic abilities, how long he is, how quick his feet are. I saw him working on keeping his feet away from each other and not tangling. Just little things that you take for granted. He worked high on his jump hook, and again his lift’s very high when he does that. And [Hakeem] tells him nobody can stop him, nobody’s as big as him if he gets his lift and his hand up. So there are so many things that Hakeem is teaching him, and he’s absorbing. But learning to play I think would be the most important.

On what Hakeem thinks of Faried:

He loves him. He said to me when we started talking about this, “Who’s that kid with a lot of energy running up and down? I like his feet, he has quick feet.” So he told me today that he’s really excited to work with him. He thinks he can get his footwork better even though he’s not a center or a big guy in what like Hakeem was. But he loves that Faried has very quick feet.

Again, please follow Drew Goodman (@ROOTSPORTS_DG) and Scott Hastings (@ScottHastings) on Twitter, tune into Drew & Scott on Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan, and listen to the archived broadcast of their original interview with  Masai Ujiri. at 1043TheFan.com.


*Ujiri’s comments have been edited for clarity.

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Joel is a long time Denver Nuggets (and Broncos) fan from Colorado who's been living in Japan since the mid-90s, and blogging about the Nuggets since 2008. You can contact and follow him on Twitter: @denbutsu.
  • dynamo.joe

    Good stuff.

    Also a nice rejoinder for everyone complaining that we made the Lakers better.

    • BurkinaJoe


      I like that Ujiri guy!

      • Landry

        Bah Na Na Na Na Na Na, BATMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        Screw you Superman we got the true leader of the Justice League!

  • doktarr

    When you think about the situation that Masai came into 2 years ago, and where the Nuggets are now, it’s just amazing.

    The only move he’s made that has been a head-scratcher for me was signing Fournier instead of leaving him stashed in Europe for another year. But then again, I laughed when other people questioned other moves he made (like the McGee trade), so hopefully I’ll be laughing at myself next year when Fournier shows that he’s more than ready.

  • Daniel Y

    Exactly. Dwight was coming west regardless of whether or not the Nuggets participated in the trade. I love Masai’s outlook, he really is doing what’s best for the Nuggets with every move he makes.

    A.I. will fit the Nuggets system perfectly. I don’t think the NBA has seen all of what he can offer playing in the slow paced East. I think we see a career year from Iggy now that he is in a place where he can really thrive.

    Also, super excited to see what Javale brings to the table this year. The huge strides he made in such a small sample last year is really encouraging. I think a summer with a hall of fame center and a full training camp will do wonders for him.

    Go Nuggets, pretty excited to see how this season plays out.

  • magster

    I hope it doesn’t get to the point where no one deals with Masai because they’ll fear ending up on the short end of the stick in a trade.

  • SmokinNugs

    I love that Hakeem loves Faried. Says a lot about his potential

  • John

    I told someone that JaVale will be an All Star within 2 years… I based this on the fact that people seem to get voted in the year “after” they first deserve it.

    JaVale is in a unique situation this year, where the BEST center in the West will miss the start of the season, while recovering from back surgery. JaVale easily has the physical gifts and skills(if not the consistency) to be the 2nd best, right now. With the work he is putting in with Hakeem as we speak, and the 15 lbs. he put on with Hess this summer, he should have a fast start to the season, gain experience, confidence, and open some eyes before Dwight ever returns to form.

    He already matched up well with Dwight, who’s game relies heavily on being “more athletic” than his opponents, generally slow plodding centers.

    Now with a larger skill set to pull from, JaVale may just surprise some people.

    This should, hopefully, go a long way towards revamping the general impression of him, and that combined with exit of the perennial All Star Yao Ming, may get him some votes.

    I hope I am right, but either way… Its gonna be fun.

  • Ban

    I’ve never been this excited about a Nuggets team. A lot of variables, but a lot of reasons to be bullish.

    Ty Lawson is the key. An all-star year from him, and sky is the limit for this team. Could be a 55+ win team, even in a brutally competitive conference.

    McGee becoming (at least) the McGee of that Lakers’ series this season would also be huge.

    Healthy, consistent seasons from Gallo and Chandler and continued improvement and high energy from Faried will also be important.

    Iguadola is a known quantity, pretty much. That’s why he gets the big bucks. Anything less than a prime, all-star season from him will be a disappointment.

    The Western Conference is stacked: Thunder, Lakers, and Spurs should be elite again. Clippers, Grizzlies, Mavericks, and Jazz should be playoff teams.
    Timberwolves, Warriors, Blazers, and Rockets should challenge.
    Add the Nuggets, and that’s 12 of 15 teams with the potential to be playoff teams. And the Hornets and Suns won’t be bad either…

    My guess, right now, is Nuggets are right there with the Clippers as the 4th and 5th best teams in the conference… Everything goes right, and the Nuggets could be up there with Lakers and Thunder… Enough goes wrong, and could miss the playoffs…

  • Byron

    Agree with those who feel Ujiri is a mastermind that seems to be making all the right moves for the Denver Nuggets for both the short-term and the long-term. Iggy will be a great addition to this team and can’t wait to see them run teams out of the gym!!!!

  • Young Pep Dash

    There is a lot to be excited about with this team. For this season and the future. Best case scenario we can finish as the 3 seed but more likely 4 or 5. Who knows though? Dwight and Nash could be bothered by back issues, Kobe’s knees could come back. This team just needs good luck with injuries and for the lakers or thunder to have a little bad luck.

    I think fans are also underrating what is essentially a new acquisition in Wilson Chandler. This guy has similar sort of ability to Gallo if not more due to his athletic and defensive ability.