Fallout from the Portland Trail Blazers’ sweep out of the NBA Playoffs started almost immediately, with head coach Terry Stotts involved in job security rumors hours after the final buzzer. Now, that fallout could extend to Portland’s starting center, Jusuf Nurkic. The big man couldn’t fully get going in the series and was run off the court by the New Orleans Pelicans’ blitzing style of play.
Squaring off with New Orleans did a number on Nurkic’s stands. He was no match for the frontcourt combination of Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic. While no one is well-equipped to handle Davis, Nurkic has limitations beyond the restricted area that hamstring the Blazers’ ability to react.
Sticking Al-Farouq Aminu on Davis—or a fellow unicorn—leaves Nurkic to chase around power forwards and glorified wings. And he struggles against explosive rim-runners or anyone with a semblance of outside-in handles. He would have been better off facing a fully healthy Pelicans squad that had DeMarcus Cousins jumping center.
If Portland was flush with cash, re-singing Nurkic and betting on his development would be a much easier decision. But Portland is stuck in a cap strangehold, and they’ll face adding onto it if Nurkic is re-signed:
Carrying Nurkic’s $8.8 million hold alone drags the ledger into luxury-tax territory ($123 million)—and that doesn’t include potential new deals for fellow restricted free agents Pat Connaughton or Shabazz Napier.
Soldiering onward with Zach Collins and Ed Davis offers genuine temptation. The Blazers outscored opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions with them playing together in the regular season, and the two gave them more defensive maneuverability versus the Pelicans.
But Davis is a free agent himself, and Collins only started seeing a lion’s share of his time at the 5 in the playoffs. Exploring the alternative guarantees Portland nothing—infinitely so if Stotts and his defensive scheme are shown the door.
Nurkic recently said in his exit interview he wants to stay in Portland, but relented that both sides have to agree on a new deal. There’s also the lingering of Summer 2016 on the roster, with lesser-impact players making a pretty penny — something Nurkic will want to secure for himself.
Nurkic averaged 14.3 points, nine rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game during the regular season. He averaged 11.8 points, eight rebounds and 1.3 blocks in four games against the Pelicans.