Jusuf Nurkic and Terry Stotts became intertwined Friday night as the Blazers’ coach played his starting center only 53 seconds in the fourth quarter of their close game with the Brooklyn Nets. Instead, Stotts turned to Ed Davis, which surprised most given Nurk’s success that night—not to mention the lack of foul trouble, either—and Davis’ inability to defend effectively down the stretch.
Nurkic was nowhere to be seen after the game, reportedly bolting before reporters got there. It also came out assistant coach David Vanterpool screamed at the big man for his lack hustle on defense.
After no word at all on Saturday, we heard more today about the status of the team. Mike Richman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com reveals Nurk’s reason for leaving early:
Jusuf Nurkic said he skipped out on talking to reporters after Friday's game because he was going to get treatment on his back.— Mike Richman (@mikegrich) November 12, 2017
And Joe Freeman, also of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, got Nurkic’s view of the situation. He takes the opportunity to compliment rather than call out coach Stotts:
As for playing just 53 seconds in the 4th quarter against the Nets, Jusuf Nurk said: "I respect Coach’s decision. To be honest, I never have a better coach than Stotts. So, there’s (not) anything wrong."— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) November 12, 2017
Nurkic has run into tense situations before. Originally drafted by the Denver Nuggets, his time there ended on rather rocky terms. Some claim the big man pouted his way out, leading to a trade to Portland.
It’s clear Nuggets fans had enough, as Adam Mares of Denver Stiffs offered his brutally honest immediate reaction to the Mason Plumlee-Nurkic swap back in February:
The loss of Nurkic isn’t even a loss to me. It’s addition by subtraction. Fans loved the idea of Nurkic but the actual Nurkic was a huge negative and a complete headache to coach, manage, and play with.
Following the trade, Nurkic was credited with turning his attitude around in Portland last year—and in effect, helping turn the Blazers’ season around, too. Over the summer, the 23-year-old big man known as the “Bosnian Beast” dropped 35 lbs., displaying a clear commitment to improving his conditioning, which was said to have suffered as a result of his chemistry issues with the Nuggets.
In mid-October, Nurkic—whose rookie contract ends after this season—spoke with Richman about his contract negotiations with the Blazers:
“Bottom line -- I want to be here’,” he said. “And I'll let my agent handle the other things.”
Some Blazers fans wondered about Nurkic’s attitude Friday night. Others offered criticism of Stotts and his handling of the situation.
There’s no right side in the matter: Nurkic’s defense on Friday night wasn’t good, and that’s putting it lightly. Still, Stotts’ decision to bench his starting center is worthy of question, since it may have cost the team a much-needed win.
Either way, the team, coaching staff and Nurkic appear ready to move on, as reported by Richman on Sunday after practice. We’ll see how they respond Monday night at home against the Nuggets—Nurk’s former team.