Less than twenty-four hours after the Portland Trail Blazers moved center Mason Plumlee to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Jusef Nurkic, the league is already weighing in on the trade. Most analysts felt the Blazers will likely struggle in the short term, but that Nurkic has a small chance of being a long-term success. And the draft pick was very welcome. But is that enough for a good grade?
Kevin Pelton of ESPN felt the Blazers won the trade. Portland received a B+, while the Nuggets got a C-. He felt the Nuggets will be paying a lot of money for a player that will be their backup to Nikola Jokic (though they can afford it), and will not help their defensive issues. For the Blazers, he felt this move would be a complement to Evan Turner’s starting role (once back from injury), and Nukic’s post-up game will help vary Portland’s offense. And that draft pick doesn’t hurt.
[Note: ABC News lists Pelton’s grade as a B, however Pelton informed Blazer’s Edge that is an error. It was a B+ in the original ESPN Insider article.]
The best part of the center swap from the Blazers' perspective is that Nurkic is still just 22 and two years removed from being one of the league's most promising rookies. Plumlee, who will turn 27 next month, is already near or at his peak as a player. Nurkic gives Portland more room to grow, something that's necessary given that the Blazers, as currently constituted, don't appear capable of competing in the West.
By getting that upside plus a first-round pick, Portland comes out ahead in this deal despite taking a step backward in the short term.
CBSSports.com gave both teams a B+, with writer Ananth Pandian citing Plumlee’s excellent passing would work well with Nuggets forward/center Nikola Jokic. For the Blazers, he grades them highly for reeling in a first-round pick and potentially removing themselves from the playoffs this year to focus on the future.
Portland also made this deal because Plumlee is a restricted free agent. After signing Evan Turner and then re-signing Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless while also giving a long-term extension to McCollum, the Blazers would've had a tough time re-signing Plumlee. They would have gone into the luxury tax to do so and since they've been largely mediocre this season, spending a lot to bring Plumlee back wouldn't have made sense.
SI.com’s Ben Golliver wasn’t so high on the Blazers, grading them a C+. He argues that the team was built by General Manager Neil Olshey as a win now team, and that the draft picks that end up later in the first-round will only pay dividends once Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are passing 30 years old. He also argues that the Blazers still do not have a serviceable defensive center, and Nurkic is not an answer. Denver received a B+.
The biggest plus regarding Nurkic from Portland’s standpoint is his rookie contract: The Blazers add him on a low salary number ($1.9 million this year and $2.9 million next), much like they did with Plumlee two years ago, and plunge forward with their search for a real long-term solution in the middle. The cycle continues.
Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer likes the trade a bit more from Portland’s perspective. Citing Olshey’s draft pick history as mostly successful, he lauds the Blazers for finding a good way to stock up even with the team salary staying uncomfortably high until at least 2019. He did not assign grades to either team.
I made the case last month for the Blazers to trade McCollum to the Sixers for high draft picks and dominant defensive center Nerlens Noel. Let’s think bigger. If the Blazers put McCollum (or Lillard) on the table in addition to their newfound assets, they could suddenly become leaders in a race for a star like DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, or Jimmy Butler.
Sam Vecenie at the Sporting News felt the Blazers easily won this trade. He gave Portland a grade of B+, compared to a C- grade for Denver. He felt Nurkic is a worse player than Plumlee right now, but that Denver should not have taken on possibly a large long-term contract for Plumlee, just to strive for a quick first-round exit against the Warriors. He also questioned the inclusion of a draft pick. He feels Nurkic will hurt the Blazers’ playoff hopes this year, but feels he still has long-term promise. And the cap relief and draft pick doesn’t hurt.
Overall, it’s hard to come away feeling bad about this deal from Portland’s perspective. Given the team’s position — like the Nuggets, unlikely to move beyond the No. 8 seed and a date with an incomprehensibly good Golden State team — making a move for future value is the smart play. The downside is that Nurkic may never improve beyond his skill level at 22 years old, but his upside is also greater than that of a soon-to-be-27-year-old Plumlee. It’s a shake-up trade for the team that has the added value of bringing in a higher ceiling for the organization.
Instead of full articles, some writers simply gave their opinions via social media. Here is some of the best.
POR smart to play the long game. Never wanted to pay Plumlee, get Nurk + a pick that will likely end up around No. 20.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) February 12, 2017
Highly doubt POR is done dealing. Not sure how Plumlee fits in DEN long-term if he gets even borderline starting C money.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) February 12, 2017
This looms large. Draft widely viewed as a deep one. Portland with a real opportunity to add top talent to its already elite backcourt. https://t.co/vxuDT8QP8o— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixYS) February 12, 2017
He's a black hole on offense and pouts a LOT. Lot of potential but he has to be constantly sated https://t.co/5uu1wQjV28— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) February 12, 2017
To let you know about market for Nurkic, DEN was wary about trading him West, sent him in-division. He's got crazy talent if right attitude— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) February 12, 2017
I like the gamble for Portland, it makes sense. I like the upgrade for Denver, it makes sense.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) February 12, 2017
Monday morning, the trade will become official, and Nurkic and Plumlee will report to their new teams. It’s not yet confirmed if they will play in their respective games Monday night. Both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum expressed their disappointment at the trade, while ESPN reported that the Blazers are attempting to move injured center Festus Ezeli.
And despite all of today’s activity, there have been reports that the Blazers are still interested in the Sixers’ Jahlil Okafor. The trade deadline promises to be anything but boring in Portland.