Nene said he never wanted to leave the Denver Nuggets – and the team gave him every possible reason for staying.
Passing on contract offers from other clubs, the NBA’s top free agent re-signed with the Nuggets, putting his signature on a five-year, $67 million contract Wednesday.
”It’s a real exciting day for the Denver Nuggets,” Nuggets President Josh Kroenke said.
Added Masai Ujiri, the Nuggets’ executive vice president of basketball operations, ”It was a long process but we all know Nene is a huge part of our basketball team and we’re very glad to have him back.
”Nene was our No. 1 guy. We knew what our goal was and the player that we wanted and Nene was our player,” Ujiri said.
Nene, the 6-foot-11 Brazilian forward who led the league in field-goal percentage last season at 61.5, chose to remain in Denver after drawing interest from such teams as the New Jersey Nets, Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers.
But an emotional Nene said his heart was always in Denver, where he has spent the last nine years. He fought back from a serious knee injury in 2005 and overcame a bout of testicular cancer in 2007-08. He also got married here and his wife and young son were in attendance at the news conference.
Nene said his strong relationship with Kroenke and Ujiri, the presence of his family and friends in Denver and the chance to help take the Nuggets to new heights all figured prominently in his decision.
”I understood it’s a business but friends, family, trust, care, you’re not going to find in another place,” Nene said. ”Josh and Masai, they told me you’re very important and they showed me. I sat down with my family, with my friends and we made the smart decision.
”I feel good here. I love Denver. I’ve said in the past I wanted to be here and here I am. I feel like a rookie right now and it’s exciting to think about reaching another big goal and bringing the Denver Nuggets to the top.”
Following the team’s practice earlier, Nuggets coach George Karl also welcomed Nene’s re-signing. He’s expected to start practicing with the team Thursday, though he’ll be eased into the sessions.
”I can’t deny you get excited,” Karl said. ”What we’re trying to do is start where we left off last year and I think we feel now we can get there. Maybe there will be some pieces that will be different and we might not be as good in certain areas, but I think we can get to the point where some of the success we had last season can be repeated.”
The Nuggets finished 50-32 last season, including an 18-7 run with a reconstituted club following the trade of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks. They were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Nuggets will open the lockout-delayed season Dec. 26 at Dallas.
Still on Karl’s wish list is the re-signing of restricted free agent guard Arron Afflalo. The Nuggets retain the ability to match any offer for Afflalo, a top defender and 3-point shooter who assumed more of a leadership role after the departure in February of Anthony and Billups.
”I feel Arron wants to be here,” Karl said. ”I know it’s a business decision. In a lot of ways, Arron is a lot like Nene. He’s kind of the leader of our team and leadership is a part of building a great team. And I think with Andre (Miller) here and Nene back, our veteran leadership is pretty classy, pretty first-class.”
Ujiri said he had spoken recently with Afflalo, ”and he said, `Save a roster spot for me.”
The Nuggets, who have been practicing with only 11 players since the resumption of NBA business last Friday, will soon be getting more reinforcements.
Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer, who were acquired Tuesday from Dallas in exchange for a second-round pick, also were expected to join the Nuggets on Thursday.
Miller, who came to Denver for a second tour as part of a three-team trade in June, played with Fernandez when they were both in Portland.
”In Portland, he was a fan favorite and he definitely brings a lot of energy to the game, him and Brewer,” Miller said. He’s just a fun guy to be around.”