Nuggets Heat Basketball

Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (50) celebrates a three-point basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

ORLANDO, Fla. - Aaron Gordon isn't the only member of the Denver Nuggets who's happy to be spending less time in Orlando these days.

“When we landed, I was shaking a little bit. I had the 83-day twitch,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said Wednesday prior to Denver’s game against the Magic, recalling the nearly three months his team spent at the Walt Disney World Resort to finish the 2019-20 season.

“It’s nice to be able to leave the property and not feel like you’re breaking the law.”

That season, Gordon was a member of the Magic. He had a shorter stay in the bubble than the Nuggets after the Magic were eliminated in the first round. He requested a trade the following season. Gordon's wishes was granted when Denver acquired him just before last season’s trade deadline, and he’s enjoyed being a part of a team with a clearer sense of direction.

“It was exciting," he said of the trade. "It was just refreshing. It was something new. I felt a little stagnant out here. I feel like we didn’t quite know what direction we were going in, in the organization toward the end.

“It was something new every year. It was a new coaching staff, new GM … new players. It was just so much fluctuation all the time. We didn’t know whether we wanted to tank or whether we were trying to win. It was like having your foot on the gas and the brake at the same time.”

The Magic used the fourth pick in the 2014 draft on the versatile power forward, and he repaid their investment over six-plus seasons in Orlando. He posted a career-high 17.6 points per game in his fourth season with and represented the franchise in a couple of dunk contests during All-Star Weekend. Although Gordon’s scoring production has dipped to 11.8 points per game over 45 games with the Nuggets, Malone believes he’s playing the best basketball of his career this season.

“At first – I’ll be honest - it was more of the defensive versatility, but what I think we’re seeing now is versatility all over the floor, offensively and defensively,” Malone said. “When he has a bigger guy on him … he can take him on the perimeter and play off the bounce. When he’s got a smaller guy, he can punish him in the post. He’s guarding ones, twos, threes, fours, and some nights, he’s playing back-up five. When you have a guy that can really man all positions and guard all positions in today’s NBA, they are worth their weight in gold. On top of that, I love AG’s attitude, his leadership, him being vocal.”

Gordon said his favorite basketball memory in Orlando was Game 1 of the 2019 playoffs when the seventh-seeded Magic beat the eventual champion Toronto Raptors on D.J. Augustin’s game-winning 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left. Toronto went on to win the next four games and knock the Magic out of the playoffs. Those were Gordon’s only five playoff games with Orlando. He played 10 in his first season with the Nuggets but credited.

“I learned how to play the right way," Gordon said of his time in Orlando. :Obviously, we wanted to be more successful in my time here, but I wouldn’t change it.”

When asked what he missed most about Orlando, the San Jose native who spent one year at the University of Arizona before being drafted by the Magic went an expected route. 

“I mean, it’s winter right now, and it’s like 70 degrees outside, sunny," he said. "That’s probably the only thing. The people here, I made some really good friends off the court and on the court, but I’m glad that I’m in Denver.”

“I love this organization. I’m happy as hell here.”