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Jusuf Nurkic Would Look Good in Portland

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A reader asks about a couple of young centers. We discuss trade possibilities.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Time for a Monday morning edition of the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag, answering your questions about the Portland Trail Blazers. As the NBA Trade Deadline approaches, questions about deals are all the rage. Here’s one about a popular Denver center.

Hi Dave,

Both Nurkic and Vucevic are reported to be available (Vuc potentially in a three way trade with Miami). What do you think it would take to get either of them? Who do you prefer taking into account what it would take to get them?

Thanks,

Blaz3rs

We’ve talked about Nikola Vucevic a couple times before. Let’s recap briefly. He’s a fantastic rebounder. He’s got a nice mid-range game and would spread the floor more than Mason Plumlee. He doesn’t have Plumlee’s gaudy assist totals but he’s no black hole; he’d be able to facilitate shots for teammates. Though he seems like one of those guys who’s been in the league forever, he’s only 26. All of these things recommend him highly. Defense is the big question mark. But his age and skill set would make a deal worth it, considering the swamp in Portland’s frontcourt now. His $12-13 million price tag over the next three years confirms that impression.

At 22 years old, Jusuf Nurkic is younger than Vucevic and has less mileage on him. Like Vucevic, Nurkic is an excellent rebounder and a spotty defender. He does most of his offensive work inside but he’s effective out to 15 feet, again an improvement on Plumlee offensively. Nurkic is on a rookie deal...the old-school kind where the players got screwed. He’ll make $1.9 million this year, rising to $3 million and $4 million over the next two seasons. That’d amount to 2.5% of Portland’s total salary output for a starting center. That’s insane.

That extreme bargain contract is one of the reasons I think the Denver Nuggets will have a hard time dealing Nurkic, despite ESPN’s Marc Stein insisting that they’re trying. They’re below the salary cap floor and can absorb bigger contracts than they send out, but what kind of exchange would be commensurate? Mediocre (or even good) veterans won’t get them into the conference elite. Nurkic probably won’t draw a lottery pick. The Nuggets would take a star-level guard but unless the contract’s bad, that may be too much of an ask as well. If Denver doesn’t get a sweet offer, the cost/benefit of holding onto Nurkic at least until the draft will outweigh their urgency to deal him.

The Blazers can’t and won’t offer CJ McCollum for Nurkic. Short of that, who would entice Denver into a deal? Allen Crabbe is having an up-and-down year and, aside from three-point shooting, his offensive numbers at scoring guard don’t outshine Nurkic’s at center. Plus he’ll cost six times as much salary as Nurkic over the next three seasons. Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu don’t fix Denver’s problems. Cleveland’s first-round pick this year is a non-factor while Portland’s is too precious. Perhaps if the Blazers were willing to give up Plumlee and Crabbe? Just about any deal that works seems like a stretch.

Having outlined those difficulties, I’ll say that since both centers are young, this is exactly the type of move the Blazers should make. I don’t see them trading a unique resource for either player, but if Orlando or Denver will take mid-roster parts, it’d be a clear win for Portland.

Given a choice I’d take Nurkic over Vucevic because I think he has the potential to solve more problems long-term. After their current slump, the Blazers may be past the “Vooch Line”. But either would be a welcome site in a Portland uniform.

Keep those questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com. We love answering them!

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—Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard