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The Ringer NBA Show: Why Didn’t Jusuf Nurkic Work in Denver?

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Nurkic had a bad reputation in Denver, but what was the disconnect? Chris Vernon and John Gonzalez explore.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Vernon and John Gonzalez of The Ringer discuss what they think went wrong for Jusuf Nurkic in Denver, and how the talented big man wound up in Portland. You can listen to the full, 40-minute podcast on Soundcloud (Nurkic conversation at 10:30) or read the key exchange below. For an added treat, skip ahead to 31:00 to hear Gonzalez’s opinion on covering the Trail Blazers from the Moda Center.

Vernon

“You wonder if Nurkic had just been a good soldier and just, you know, said all the right things and ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win’ and all that bull crap, right, did it just become so toxic and his attitude become so poor—because you even chronicled in the article, like, he wasn’t bashful about saying ‘Hey, this sucks. I want to be playing.’ He didn’t sugarcoat being unhappy with his situation there, right? And so, at some point—I don’t want to say force your way out, but you make it so that the management, it sure is easy, and nobody’s going to miss you pouting in the locker room or saying that kind of stuff in the locker room. You’re obviously pissed off. It’s just better to break up. Right? And then you end up making, in retrospect, probably a bad deal to get him out, but you do wonder, if he didn’t get pouty, if he didn’t express his discontent, if that just never even happens, right?”

Gonzalez

“Yeah, see, I’m kind of torn on this. I keep going back and forth because the other night Lillard was just, like, praising him, right, saying he is blunt—talking about Nurkic—and clearly he was in Denver. He was popping off to the Denver Post all the time and when he got sat he was saying ‘It’s hard to feel part of the team,’ he was catching DNP-CDs, he was barely playing 16 minutes a game when he did play, so clearly he wasn’t happy. And you heard—anybody who covers the NBA heard rumors about Nurk being a problem in the locker room, but then, look at what happened the other night, that game that I covered in Portland where they beat the Nuggets in Portland. After the game, even though he threw shade at them, a bunch of the Nuggets went over and hugged it out with him. It didn’t look to me like they didn’t like Nurkic. It looked like they really liked Nurkic, so whatever he was saying over there, maybe they understood it.

I mean, Jameer (Nelson) told me, and I put it in the piece, like, ‘Look, I don’t know if it was Nurk or if it was the system, but, like, it just didn’t fit for us and for the offense, and it obviously didn’t fit for him,’ but he didn’t sound like he—at no point did it sound like he didn’t like Nurkic, and it didn’t look like any of them didn’t like Nurkic. So I wonder if it was more Nurkic rubbing management the wrong way, because for you to offload—I like Mason Plumlee just fine, but Mason Plumlee is not Nurkic and he doesn’t have the upside of Nurkic, and Nurkic is on a better deal and he’s younger and they offloaded a first round pick in exchange for it, so I still feel like there’s something else that we didn’t know about it.”

Vernon

“Well here’s the other thing; I—and maybe this is unfair on my part, but that quote that you just brought up; the Nelson quote. My opinion is, you don’t bring up—he did it in a soft way, but you don’t bring up the system unless you think it’s the system. What I’ve typically found is if somebody slips in there ‘Or maybe it was this,’ right, and it has to do with coaching, it’s a way to kind of say ‘Hey yeah, we knew he was really good and we should have figured out a way for it to work here, so maybe it was this or maybe it was that, but we wish him well.’ Usually when that’s said and you throw in the possibility that it was the system, that means that’s what you really think. I think if you sat down and gave Jameer Nelson truth serum, he’d say ‘I knew Nurkic was good, we should have figured out a way to use him better, but we F’d that up.’”

For more of The Ringer NBA Show, follow this link.