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."