According to Adrian Wojnarowski the Denver Nuggets have traded Jusuf Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers for Mason Plumlee. The Nuggets will also send the Memphis Grizzlies first round pick that they own to Portland and receive a 2018 second rounder and cold hard cash in return.
Portland sends Mason Plumlee a 2018 second round pick for Nurkic and a 2017 first-rounder (via Memphis), league sources tell @TheVertical— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) February 12, 2017
A Nurkic trade has been coming for a while now. With Nikola Jokic seizing the reigns as the Nuggets big man of the future Nurkic had become expendable. He also had been vocal about his frustrations with his role on the team and from that reports started surfacing that Nurkic was all but gone. Marc Stein of ESPN stated about a month ago that Nurkic was “sure to be traded.” Today marks the end of the Bosnian Beast’s short tenure in Denver, and an end to a somewhat ugly situation that was growing into a legitimate problem.
At first glance this trade doesn’t necessarily look great for the Nuggets. Giving up the Memphis first rounder hurts, but getting back a second rounder next year helps soften that blow. I’m sure all of Nuggets Nation would have preferred a straight up swap of the two centers but with Nurkic’s discontent well known around the league the Nuggets had to pay a little extra to unload him. This is the second time in Tim Connelly’s tenure (the first being the Ty Lawson trade) where perhaps waiting too long to pull the trigger cost DEnver some value. However, Nurkic had played excellently through the preseason and the Nuggets had visions of a Nurkic-Jokic pairing in the starting lineup so they were invested to make it work. In the end it didn’t and Connelly seems to have been searching for the right Nurkic deal ever since.
It’s important to see that this is not necessarily a bad deal for Denver either. By all measures Plumlee is the better player right now. The Nuggets are getting a solid defensive center who has been averaging 11 points and 8 rebounds in 28 minutes of action this season. It’s unlikely that Plumlee will see as many minutes with the Nuggets as he did the Blazers given that he was a starter in Portland and will be a bench player for Denver. We’ll have to see how Plumlee takes to this new reduced role which may be a tough pill to swallow given he’s started every game he’s played in a Portland uniform.
The other concern with Plumlee is that he will be coming off of his rookie deal at the end of the season and will be a restricted free agent. Being an RFA gives Denver the ability to match any deal that Plumlee might receive from other teams trying to secure his services but regardless, much like Danilo Gallinari, he’s going to be in for a big raise from his current $2.3 million salary. Denver is of course not short on cash as this deal brings them just $400k closer to the salary cap floor. With Plumlee expiring at the end of the season the Nuggets should be roughly $40 million under the cap when the offseason comes. The chunk of change is likely enough to bring both Plumlee and Gallo back into the fold but will leave the team fairly strapped as far as making any other moves, they certainly would not be able to bring back both of those guys and go out and sign someone to a max deal.
In my personal opinion, the Nuggets did as good as they possibly could with this. Nurkic’s value had been plummeting (Plumleeting?) since his became discontent with his role. His play suffered and it had got to the point that it looked like he had outright quit on the team. One has to question if a player with that type of attitude and lack of mental toughness will ever become a solid NBA starter, much less a star. The Nuggets obviously are not getting back a player who is star caliber in Plumlee either but they are getting a young center (though not as young as Nurkic) who will help them on defense and be a better player on the court right now. They did this while maintaining control over the player they acquired and lessened the blow of losing a mid to late first round pick by picking up a second round pick for the 2018 draft. All in all it’s probably about as good of a deal as could be realistically expected for Nurkic. Let’s welcome Mason Plumlee to Nuggets Nation everybody!