Jusuf Nurkic saw the court against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday after a week of being held out of games due to a coaching decision, and on Thursday, he shared his feelings on his role with BSN Denver reporter Harrison Wind.
“It’s tough. I’m 22 years-old, I’m not here to sit on the bench, I’m here to play basketball,” Nurkic said to Mr. Wind at practice Thursday. “Tough decision for me, from starting spot for three minutes, to seven, four-straight not play. I’m not accept that. Nobody probably understands my position so even if you don’t know if you’re starting the next game or not. But like I said, you can control what you can control and I let my agent do the rest of the stuff.”
There is no denying that this season must be incredibly frustrating for Nurkic. He worked hard in the offseason to #provethemwrong and showed up in great shape. He earned a spot in the starting lineup, and was the Nuggets starting center for the first 25 games of the season.
After a 20-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Michael Malone decided to start Nikola Jokic, and Nurkic played 4:30 in the next game against the Portland Trail Blazers. He played 7:42 in the next game, sat out for four games, then played 8:40 against Minnesota.
After getting benched in what would seem like a good matchup for Nurkic against the Los Angeles Clippers, Nurkic liked a tweet that was critical of Malone.
That, plus the conversation he had with Harrison Wind, show how frustrating this season has been for Nurkic. It leads into the question - what happens next?
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Nuggets general manager, Tim Connelly, knows how Nurkic feels. Connelly either has spoken directly with Nurkic or has heard directly from Nurkic’s agent Dan Fegan. (Fegan also represents DeMarcus Cousins - I bet he wakes up happy every day).
I would be shocked if Kenneth Faried or his agent, Thaddeus Foucher (who works for the Wasserman Media Group), hasn’t had a similar conversation with Connelly about playing time.
Michael Malone has an easy decision to make - which player gives his team the best chance to win? Most nights, that means playing Faried, while sometimes that means playing Nurkic.
The hard decision lies with Connelly. Faried is signed to a contract that could keep him in Denver until the end of the 2018-19 season. Nurkic is signed to a contract that could keep him in Denver until the end of the 2017-18 season, after which he can agree to a qualifying offer or become a restricted free agent. It’s much more likely that Nurkic stays in Denver into the next decade than Faried, due to the nature of restricted free agency.
In an article on The Ringer, Jonathan Tjarks wrote about a league problem of having too many big men. Tjarks said, “It probably wouldn’t require a huge offer for another team to take him off Denver’s hands.”
I’m a huge fan of Nurkic - I love his competitive nature, his story, and the skills he offers - but I think a trade is the most likely resolution to the conflict. It would be nice to get something tangible in return, but with the state of the league, it’s likely the Nuggets may only be able to get a second-round pick back in return. Thank goodness the Nuggets were able to get two second-round picks for Joffrey Lauvergne from the Oklahoma City Thunder this summer - what a steal that trade looks like now, and imagine the big man logjam if Lauvergne was still on the roster.
What I think is likely the best scenario is using the Nuggets cap space (nearly $19 million under, third lowest in the league) to absorb a bad contract with the reward of a future first round pick.
The Pelicans general manager, Dell Demps, may feel like he needs to make a move to save his job. Connelly has a connection with their front office, and may be able to use that to help work out a trade. Dealing Nurkic for Asik and a 2018 first round pick doesn’t make the Nuggets better, but it corrects a conflict and gets a draft asset in return for Nurkic.
Asik could either accept a role similar to Nurkic’s (playing spot minutes) or get waived (which would likely happen eventually anyways). Asik has one of the worst contracts in the league, but the Nuggets can afford to absorb it for a price.
There’s a similar trade package the Nuggets could explore with the Timberwolves for Nikola Pekovic, who is more likely to retire than Asik, and has a two-year contract as opposed to a four-year contract. Tom Thibodeau would probably love to get an asset in exchange for Pekovic, even if it cost a future first-round pick.
Ultimately, this is a thistle in the flower that the 2016-17 season has become. Only time will tell what will happen with Nurkic and the Nuggets. Many fans, myself included, are left hoping for the best with the talented Bosnian center.