DENVER (AP) Kenneth Faried instantly perked up when his new coach proclaimed the Denver Nuggets would return to their uptempo roots.
The athletic forward nicknamed Manimal can be Manimal again.
Faried is at his best when he's free to crash the boards, fly around the court and get the crowd - along with his teammates - revved up by his all-out hustle. He felt a bit muzzled in years past, but not so under coach Michael Malone, who believes he's about to unleash Manimal 2.0.
This version even comes complete with a burgeoning inside game and a work-in-progress jumper. Maybe a little 3-point range, too.
''I don't want him to forget who he is, the core of Kenneth Faried. That's a guy who plays harder than anybody else on the floor,'' said Malone, who is trying to get Denver back on track after missing the playoffs the last two seasons under Brian Shaw. ''If he can do that for us, we'll reward him and give him touches where he can showcase his offensive development.''
Faried views himself as one of the team's franchise players, especially nowadays after his best friend Ty Lawson was dealt to Houston. That trade was a tough blow for him, losing the speedy point guard who could feed Faried so effortlessly for those rim-rattling dunks.
''Got to live with it,'' said Faried, who averaged 12.6 points and 8.9 rebounds last season.
This helps - the emergence of rookie playmaker Emmanuel Mudiay.
''I'm excited to see how he throws those lobs or pinpoints those passes when he goes through lane and drops them off, just like Ty used to do,'' said Faried, a first-round pick in 2011 out of Morehead State. ''His court vision is amazing.''
Faried was all smiles earlier in the week. That hasn't always been the case the last two seasons, when he really wasn't sure what his role entailed. This season, he knows that he'll be an integral part of Malone's team along with Mudiay, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari.
''I'm going to continue to be myself and continue to be the Manimal and try to lead this team by being the Manimal,'' said Faried, whose team is coming off a 30-52 season. ''I believe we have a chance to make the playoffs this year. ... I don't care what anybody has to stay about it.''
For a change, he feels secure. The 25-year-old Faried knows there are no trade rumors hovering over his head.
''Either you learn how to deal with it or let it defeat you,'' Faried said of trade speculation. ''At times, I thought, `OK this is going to defeat me.' Now that I've grown, and the Nuggets said, `You're not going anywhere,' I'm OK.''
Better than OK, even. He's already in regular-season shape, checking in at a trim 215 pounds. His legs feel fresh as well, which is understandable.
Before the 2014-15 season, he arrived at training camp after guiding Mike Krzyzewski's U.S. squad to a championship at the Basketball World Cup. That experience was tiring, but taught him how to be a better leader, which is one of his goals this season.
''Not vocally, but more (through) action,'' he said.
Memo to Malone: Faried wouldn't mind being given the green light to attempt more 3-pointers, either, since he's been working on them. He went 1-for-6 at a Team USA exhibition game from that distance in August.
''A lot of them were in and out,'' cracked Faried, who is 1 for 11 in his career from 3-point land. ''Steph Curry didn't make every shot in the playoffs, did he? Klay Thompson, either. Got to get better. That's what I'm doing.''
Malone is on board with Faried hoisting more shots - within reason, he quickly cautioned.
''I'm not a big fan of the 3-point shot with Kenneth,'' Malone said. ''But I'll tell you this: I believe in rewarding the big man. If he's doing all the dirty work, we owe it to him giving him the ball every once in a while.''