With the NBA trade deadline approaching, we should expect trade talks to heat up with more deals to soon follow. I will be analyzing each one as they happen.
February 12, 2017
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Jusuf Nurkic, Memphis Grizzlies’ 2017 first round pick, top 5 protected
Denver Nuggets Receive: Mason Plumlee, Trail Blazers’ 2018 second round pick
When I first saw this trade today a few minutes after it was first reported, I thought for sure that the Nuggets sending the Blazers a first round had to be a mistake and the report would be corrected within the hour, but as it stand the Blazers received both Nurkic and a first rounder. Nurkic began the season as the starting center for the Nuggets before being replaced by Nikola Jokic, who looks like a future star for the Nuggets. The fact the Nuggets saw something in Nurkic at one point to play him over Jokic is an encouraging sign for the Trail Blazers, even if Nurkic never quite reaches the level of play Jokic is currently at. Nurkic looks like he could be a regular double-double threat for the foreseeable future and his large 7’, 275+ pound should be able to take a beating down low. The fact he is also a gifted passer is just an added bonus. With what will surely be more consistent minutes with the Trail Blazers, Nurkic should be able to match, or exceed the numbers that Mason Plumlee was putting up. It may not be in the same style, but with Nurkic being the only true, traditional center currently healthy on the roster, he will not be asked to do some of the power forward duties that Plumlee was better at. The Trail Blazers are not playing for the 2017 championship and from the construction of the current roster, management knew that going into the year. The Trail Blazers will likely make a few more moves, with Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Mo Harkless, and Al-Farouq Amino all carrying heft contracts while over lapping in positions and playing style. I see Crabbe and Amino as the most likely to be traded. Nurkic is on a rookie scale contract through 2018 so Portland will have a season and a half to determine if he is in their long-term plans and how he meshes with superstars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Plumlee was do for restricted free agency at the conclusion of this season and Portland would not have had the money to resign him without making a few other moves. The Grizzlies’ 2017 first round pick is a very nice pick up for Portland in this trade, with them now having 3 picks in the loaded 2017 draft. Portland still owns their 2017 pick along with an unprotected Cleveland Cavaliers pick. If the season ended today, Portland would have the 11th, 21st, and 27th pick in the draft. They will likely not make all three selections as I expect them to use them in other trades, whether that is in the coming days before the deadline or before or during the draft. Nurkic is a center four years younger than Plumlee, with more potential, on a cheaper contract. That along with the pick makes the Trail Blazers the winners of this trade. The only reason this is not a grand slam for the Trail Blazers is that it will possibly hurt their record the rest of 2017. On the flip side, the were not going to be anything but the team who loses to the Warriors in the first round, so it actually might help earn a better draft pick.
When Mason Plumlee was first drafted into the NBA with the 22nd pick in the 2013 draft, the expectations were not that high. He was thought of as another Duke star who did not have the athleticism to succeed in the NBA. After Plumlee played for the United States national team and won gold at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, there seemed to be very high expectations on Plumlee going into the 2014 NBA season, but with Brook Lopez in front of him on the Nets, he was never going to be the consistent starter. Plumlee was traded to the Trail Blazers before the 2015 season and has done well, but not great for them, but finally had consistent playing time. If he had been traded to a team looking for a starting center, or a playoff-bound team looking for a backup big man cheap for the rest of 2017, this would not be a shocking trade. But for a team like the Nuggets with a budding star entrenched as the starting center, and a roster of high potential players they are looking to consolidate into a star, this was a surprising move. The first round draft pick the Nuggets gave up is the most questionable part of this trade. If they are looking to make another move either before the deadline or in the offseason, that pick could have come in handy. Instead, they moved it for a player who is soon to be 27 years old, with no signs that there is room fro growth, who will also be a restricted free agent this offseason. Plumlee is a better fit, theoretically, playing alongside Jokic than Nurkic was, but is he a better 4 than Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, and Wilson Chandler? The Nuggets must think so because if not, they just gave up a lot for what would otherwise amount to an expensive backup center and a 2018 second round pick. The Nuggets only have half a season to decide if Plumlee is part of their long term plans, and there is always the chance another team steps in with a monster offer for Plumlee that the Nuggets just cannot justify matching. The Nuggets need to keep their fingers crossed that with the plethora of big men in the NBA right now, the demand and price tag for restricted free agents is low and a bidding war is avoided.