The external chatter regarding Jamal Murray’s decision not to suit up in the NBA playoffs, more than one year removed from ACL surgery, led to the sidelined Nuggets point guard to finally speak up.
On April 18, after a lopsided Game 2 playoff defeat at the Warriors, Murray posted a message on Twitter: Y’all don’t think I want to be out there huh … crazy.
On Friday, Murray offered a detailed explanation for why he didn’t play. He answered questions for almost 20 minutes inside Ball Arena at a season-ending news conference.
The Nuggets had left the door open for Murray to return against Golden State. What happened?
“I have to feel good to play,” Murray said. “I don’t know how else I can say it.”
It’s been 383 days since Murray’s left knee buckled playing in his last NBA game. Only Murray knows when it feels back to normal.
“I remember saying at the beginning of my rehab, I want to come back when I’m 100 percent and not 85. I don’t think I’m 85 right now,” Murray said. “I know I can go get a bucket. But in terms of the intensity of the playoffs, I’m just not there yet.”
Murray provided a window into that process. His recovery proved to be humbling, especially in the beginning stages.
“I remember my first jumps were in the pool. It was like up to my chest,” Murray said. “I just remember the big smile on my face because it was the first time I left the ground in like, how long, I don’t remember how many months. It was an eye-opener for me. … I didn’t think it would take as long to run. Every step you take is a step in the right direction, but you’re still so far from the finish line. It’s a marathon.”
Murray told reporters that he was finally cleared for five-on-five practice in early April when the team traveled to play the Lakers. Tim Connelly, the Nuggets’ president of basketball operations, called it a “collective decision” to keep Murray sidelined through the playoffs despite never ruling him out publicly.
“We knew specifically with Jamal’s injury that the timeframes can be all over the place. We’ve done all the studies and it can be anywhere from X to Y. We didn’t want to put a firm timeframe on it,” Connelly said Friday. “As he started to feel better and better, we didn’t want to be too definitive because we didn’t want to mislead anyone in this room. As the year progressed and we got into the postseason, I thought it would be irresponsible for him to enter that level of competition.”
Murray agreed with that assessment.
“(It’s) not just having the ball in your hand and going to score. That’s the easy part because I know where I want to go and I know what I want to do with the ball. I know my movements on the court,” Murray said. “But on defense, that was the toughest part. Reacting, getting screened, moving around screens, rebounding, loose balls and all that stuff. That was an eye-opener for me, where I realized I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it.”
Murray will continue his rehab this offseason in Phoenix. He also plans on a trip home to Canada to see family and possibly additional leisure travel overseas. Murray believes he will return next season as a stronger player — mentally and physically — after clearing the final hurdles of his ACL recovery.
“You’re tested in so many different ways,” he said. “From people not knowing where you’re at, to you not knowing where you’re at, to you not knowing when you’re going to be healthy again.
“It’s definitely made me a stronger person and I’m looking forward to unleashing that next year.”