Denver Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic is feeling “great” and is expected to return to the United States in time to join the team flight to Orlando, Florida, according to coach Michael Malone.
Jokic had his return to Denver delayed after testing positive for the coronavirus in Serbia, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst reported on June 23.
“Nikola feels great,” Malone said in a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday. “We are working on getting him back here. Next Tuesday we depart for Orlando; the hope and expectation is that Nikola Jokic will be with us on that plane. From everything that I have heard and talked to him, he feels great, he feels fine and is excited to get back.”
Jokic will require two negative tests within 24 hours in Serbia before he can be cleared to travel. Upon arriving in Denver, Jokic will have to undergo a cardiac screening and test negative once for COVID-19.
The All-Star, who has been asymptomatic according to sources, is one of “multiple” members in the Nuggets’ traveling party to test positive for the coronavirus. The team opted to shut down its practice facility out of caution.
“We have closed down the facility,” Malone confirmed. “… We felt it was the right thing to do. Today was supposed to be the first day of Phase 3 where all our players were required to be back in the gym and we are allowed to work with them albeit just 1-on-0. We have put the safety of our team ahead of this Phase 3. There is a chance we can open the gym up before we leave, depending upon results in the coming days. I am not going to get into who tested but we have had multiple people in our travel party test positive.”
The Nuggets (43-22) will resume the season with a slimmed-down Jokic if all goes as planned. Jokic — who is averaging 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists this season — has transformed his body and lost 40 pounds during the hiatus. Images of a slimmed-down Jokic in Serbia went viral last month.
Malone said the Nuggets, who are third in the Western Conference, have not received any indication so far of any players opting out of Orlando.
With coronavirus cases surging in Florida and social unrest continuing around the country over racial injustice and police brutality following the death of George Floyd, Malone said he supports any player or staff member who chooses not to participate in the NBA restart.
The Nuggets coach, who revealed in June that he had tested positive for the coronavirus in March, said he has been talking with his players about expanding the team’s platform for continuing the social justice movement.
Malone said the NBA Coaches Association is working with the Obama Foundation and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson, the nationally acclaimed public interest lawyer depicted in the movie “Just Mercy.”
“You are going to hear this a lot not only from myself but all the coaches going to Orlando,” Malone said. “Just because we are resuming the season does not mean we will get away from what is going on in our country and around the world right now… Obviously the safety, coronavirus, we all understand what the country is going on and just as important, keeping the conversation on racial justice and how we can improve not only Denver but everything in this country and around the world.”
The Nuggets have already been through a lot with Jokic and others testing positive for the virus before leaving for Orlando.
Malone said the last team standing in Orlando should be recognized for doing something no other NBA team has ever done.
“Maybe the good thing for us is having the positive tests that we have had, going down there and getting that out of the way and getting it now,” Malone said. “And when it is time to get down to the bubble, maybe you are a little more immune to getting it. But overall I feel pretty safe [about playing in Orlando].
“There has been this ongoing dialogue and conversation that whoever wins it this year, there will be an asterisk by their name and I don’t buy that at all,” Malone later added. “If you are able to go into a bubble and be isolated from your friends and family, to have no home-court advantage, to have a league interruption of four months and you are able to spend 90 days and come out of there a champion, I think this will be the toughest championship ever won. There is no asterisk.”