The Portland Trail Blazers signed former two-way contract big man Moses Brown to a partially guaranteed minimum deal earlier this week.
Brown is guaranteed $250,000, according to Spotrac’s Keith Smith. If he’s on the roster on opening night that number doubles to $500,000 and if he’s still there in January, it becomes fully guaranteed. Not a terrible move from a franchise currently paying only one recognized center in Jusuf Nurkic and one two-way big man in Ibou Badji who has a ways to go before being NBA ready.
The 7’2 Brown is in no way the solution to all the Blazers’ issues. He’s not currently a starting-level center and may never be. But the 23-year-old’s size and athleticism make him a perfectly reasonable gamble for a Blazers team destined to return to the lottery for a third straight year in 2024.
The New York-born prospect has tremendous athletic gifts, including a 7’4 wingspan and 9.3 standing reach. He has a knack for rim protection, owns good defensive instincts and has been able to add a little muscle to that skinny frame.
On offense, he doesn’t really shoot outside of three feet, but with decent footwork and a willingness to bang down low, he can be an asset under the rim.
Brown joined the Blazers on a two-way contract in 2019 after a single year with UCLA where he put up 9.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
I was lucky enough to fly to the US during the 2019-20 season. During my second visit to the Moda Center, I caught the 52 dismal seconds that left Brown with an almost unbelievable -8 plus/minus against the Phoenix Suns the night before New Year’s Eve.
That night, the then 20-year-old was the very definition of a deer in headlights. He was like Donny in The Big Lebowski, “out of his element”.
Brown finished the season playing nine games, averaging 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds in 3.7 minutes. Those numbers weren’t guaranteeing him another NBA pay day.
But, with a little luck, Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder saw something in him. They signed Brown to a second two-way contract to help balance out their guard-heavy franchise roster during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season.
The big man was given development opportunities in OKC and made the most of them, starting 32 of 43 games, averaging 21.4 minutes, 8.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. In his second NBA start, he recorded 20 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocks and it wasn’t a one off with multiple impressive outings throughout the season.
He also won G-League Player of the Week in February 2021 thanks to a 5-0 stretch with the Oklahoma City Blue where he put up 19.8 points, 15.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals. His efforts with the Blue also earned him All-NBA G-League First Team as well as NBA G-League All-Defensive Team honors at season’s end.
Last season Brown signed another two-way contract with the Los Angeles Clippers, playing backup to Ivica Zubac and appearing in 34 games, averaging 4.6 points and 4.1 rebounds. That is until the Clippers brought in veteran and former Blazer Mason Plumlee at the trade deadline.
As a Clipper, Brown ranked first among all NBA big men in offensive rebounds and 18th in defensive rebounds.
He was subsequently waived on February 17, before signing a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets, playing in a pair of games, yielding a mere six minutes.
Brown is no longer eligible for another two-way contract, given his four years of service. It’s time for him to contribute without excuses that he’s too raw and needs time to develop.
He’s had plenty of time to work on his game and while acknowledging that big men take a little longer to mature, he needs to solidify himself as a rotation player in this league.
Despite his disappointing end to the 2022-23 season, I believe Brown has NBA-level ability. He has natural defensive instincts, long arms, footwork and the motor to run with a young backcourt looking to push the pace.
And unlike Nurkic, he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective.
Will He Play?
At the moment. Yes. Brown is the Blazers' only real current backup center behind Jusuf Nurkic. Badji needs time with the Rip City Remix and Jabari Walker is a better fit at power forward.
If it were up to me, I’d be giving Brown every non-Nurkic minute at center. If he sinks, there’s no serious loss as the franchise is not really looking at wins this season. If he swims, he becomes, at the very least, a rotation level big with impressive measurements who can contribute consistently every night.
Brown will be one of many free swings the Blazers take over the next few years. Some will pan out, others won’t.
The Blazers clearly have faith in the former Bruin to use one of their three remaining regular season spots on him.
Jacked Ramsays’ Danny Marang wrote about what Brown’s partially guaranteed deal means.
If I were reading tea leaves, this has at least the hint of the Blazers flagging that they’re gearing up for bringing Damian Lillard into the season. Fair or not, every acquisition or lack thereof will be judged in this lens until the trade request comes to full conclusion.
In any Damian Lillard trade, the Blazers will likely bring back multiple players, including potential big men, getting them close to or at the maximum 15 roster names.
Regardless of when Lillard is moved, the non-guaranteed element of the deal makes him easy to move or waive before the season starts or in the lead up to February’s deadline.
Lack of Free Agents
As far as I can see, the only free agent centers still looking for a home are in their late 20s, early 30s, guys that don’t fit the profile of this young rebuilding team.
I’m talking about Christian Wood, Bismack Biyombo, Gorgui Dieng Frank Kaminsky, Willy Hernangomez, Meyers Leonard, Boban Marjanovic and Willie Cauley-Stein.
There’s also Vernon Carey Jr. and Marko Simonovic who are in a similar age range to Brown, but honestly, I’d rather have the returned Blazer. I’d rather have someone who still has room to grow, whose prime is still years off.
Moses Brown looks set to be the Blazers primary backup to Jusuf Nurkic, particularly with Damian Lillard a chance to start the season in Portland.
His development has been slower than many might have liked, but Brown has shown tantalizing glimpses, particularly with the Thunder.
He fits what Chauncey Billups wants in his big man, especially with a group of young ball dominant guards he can work off and run with.
Brown’s contract helps this team with or without a Lillard trade. If the point guard is moved before the season, Brown can be waived for $250,000 to make way for the multiple players coming back in said deal.
If Damian Lillard remains with the team into the season, Brown pushes the team one contract closer to its minimum 14 requirement, providing length and athleticism behind the less than durable Nurkic.
And while he’s not the biggest name the Blazers could have added, he’s a seven foot center with four years of experience keen to prove his place in the league.
Brown came out of UCLA with almost no fanfare. All he had was size and unpolished potential. The partially guaranteed deal could be his next chance to show how much potential has been realized since his last stop in the Pacific Northwest.