July 7, 2018, 2:37 pm
Re-signing Jusuf Nurkic to a four-year, $48 million contract was a puzzling decision by the Portland Trail Blazers, and not just because of how Neil Olshey justified his team’s preceding offseason moves in the hours before the deal was announced. Sitting next to new additions Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas at the press-conference podium on Friday afternoon, though, Olshey confirmed the notion that the Blazers’ widespread postseason struggles directly informed their summer plan of attack.
“We’re not going to overreact to the playoff result relative to what went on in the regular season,” he said. “But we’re also not gonna under-react, and not take a deeper lens to areas of our roster that need to be upgraded.”
It’s pretty clear where Nurkic, and his pricey new deal, fits into that blueprint. A multi-year contract paying him well north of $10 million annually seemed inevitable for Nurkic prior to the playoffs. He had not only proven a surprisingly adept paint-protector throughout the regular season, helping propel Portland to a top-10 defense, but Nurkic was also playing the most most well-rounded offensive game of his career, too. A 23-year-old center who’s able to function as the last line of defense and contribute as a scorer and passer almost wherever you need him offensively – on the block, as a roller, from mid-range – wouldn’t come cheap.
But being swept by the New Orleans Pelicans changed the Blazers’ short- and long-term outlooks. No one player was responsible for Portland’s inability to consistently manage efficient offense or string together stops; the Pelicans, after replacing the injured DeMarcus Cousins with sweet-shooting Nikola Mirotic and sliding Anthony Davis to center full-time, were just a bad matchup for Terry Stotts’ team on the whole. Still, it was Nurkic whose two-way deficiencies were exposed more than any of his teammates’. He couldn’t guard a multi-faceted thoroughbred like Davis, obviously, and was ill-equipped chasing Mirotic out to 30 feet as Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday frantically pushed the pace. Nurkic hardly made up for it on the other end, either, his effectiveness muted by New Orleans cheating off the Blazers’ supporting cast away from the ball to shrink the floor and make Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum see multiple defenders.
It’s worth noting here that the Pelicans let Cousins walk and signed Julius Randle in free agency, sacrificing star power for the greater good of playing a style that aligns with the current NBA’s increasing emphasis on pace, space and all-around versatility. Portland could have made a similar team-building judgement by moving on from Nurkic, re-signing Ed Davis to a cheap one-year deal and anointing Zach Collins as its starting center in 2019-20, after the rising sophomore gained more playing experience and added some much-needed muscle – which he’s apparently already done since his promising rookie season came to a close. It’s not like Nurkic, at his fully-realized best, will be anything more than a poor man’s Cousins, undoubtedly productive but easily exploited by big men cut from a modern cloth.
The Blazers didn’t give that route much meaningful consideration. Olshey, in fact, on the phone with Davis in the opening minutes of free agency, advised him to sign the one-year, $4.4 million contract offered by the Brooklyn Nets, a depressing result of the Blazers’ playoff failings as much as it was their lack of financial flexibility.
“I get people missing Ed – no one will miss him more than Terry and I and the guys around here,” he said. “But, we also ran into a buzzsaw in the playoffs, and a lot of that had to do with floor spacing, it had to do with floor balance, it had to do with a lack of shooting from different positions on the floor. As productive as Ed was, there were certainly limitations in terms of what it exposed us to defensively by an elite defensive team like New Orleans.”
Nurkic is indeed more comfortable on the perimeter than Davis, both as a shooter and passer. Davis took just eight shots outside the paint last season, and defenses treated him accordingly. They won’t defend Nurkic away from the basket much differently going forward, though. Anytime a 37.9 percent mid-range shooter hoists a long two is a win for the defense, and Nurkic’s relative improvement in that area last season doesn’t exactly portend him morphing into a 3-point threat – the one development that would alter the trajectory of his career more than any other.
Olshey clearly understands the foibles associated with playing non-shooting big men, especially when they share the floor with ever-streaky wings like Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless and Evan Turner. The Blazers’ ideal offseason outcome was adding the 3-and-D archetype those guys aren’t, but doing so in free agency was never a realistic possibility. Every team in the league needs complementary wings who can play both sides of the ball, and Portland’s salary-cap constraints always ensured its bidding on the open market would fall short of top dollar.
Nothing the Blazers did this summer, short of shedding the contract of Turner or Meyers Leonard in an unlikely trade that would have inevitably included draft-pick sweeteners, would have afforded them the financial wiggle room to bring in that type of player. Nurkic’s new deal doesn’t change that equation whatsoever. What it does, though, is add a substantial amount of salary to the books the same long-awaited year that Turner, Leonard and Harkless all become free agents. Portland has approximately $87 million committed to Lillard, McCollum, Nurkic, Collins, Caleb Swanigan, Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent, Jr. for the summer of 2020, yielding $29 million of cap room – not enough space to sign a veteran commanding the max, even before accounting for minimum-salaried cap holds.
The immediate monetary ramifications are more onerous. With 13 players in tow before making a decision on Wade Baldwin’s non-guaranteed team option for next season, the Blazers are right up against the tax apron of $129.9 million. Reaching that total means they can’t acquire players via sign-and-trade and are restricted to the mini mid-level exception in free agency, most of which has already been spent on Curry and the guaranteed money to Trent, Jr., a second-round pick. Unless Portland miraculously finds a taker for the Turner or Leonard contract, it’s now restricted to using to trade exceptions to acquire additional talent.
Big picture, the Blazers were stuck between a rock and a hard place here. Parting ways with Nurkic would have made them worse-off in an even stronger Western Conference next season, mere months after Lillard took multiple meetings with Paul Allen to discuss the future of the franchise. Bringing him back at an eight-figure salary for multiple years doesn’t just complicate plans for the 2020 offseason, but also blocks Collins’ path to becoming the team’s starting center and forces Allen to pay eight figure in luxury-tax penalties.
There was no win-win option available. Still, given the market for big men, one wonders if Portland might have been better off slow-playing Nurkic in restricted free agency and re-initiating contract talks at a later date. The money isn’t out there for Nurkic to have received this type of deal from a competitor. Just as importantly, the list of teams who would want to give it to him if they had the chance is undoubtedly small. Nurkic is a square peg in the round hole of modern basketball.
The Blazers aren’t dumb. Portland knows of Nurkic’s limitations, and what they mean for this team’s ability to contend going forward. Unfortunately, there was just no path to addressing those concerns while simultaneously staying afloat in 2018-19 – and keeping Lillard content on playing in the pacific northwest.
— Jason Quick (@jwquick) July 7, 2018
(h/t Early Bird Rights for salary cap information)
June 26, 2019, 7:49 pmDerrick Favors - PF - Utah Jazz
According to Shams Charania of the Athletic, Derrick Favors will field calls from several interested teams and act as if he will be an unrestricted FA, a sign that he doesn't expect the Jazz to pick up his team option.
Favors has gone on the record indicating that he'd love to return to Utah, but it appears that they are interested in allocating the 17 million he would have made, elsewhere. Favors has always struggled to maximize his fantasy potential playing next to Rudy Gobert, and perhaps a situation with a less clogged paint could do more for his value.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
June 26, 2019, 7:13 pmThomas Bryant - C - Washington Wizards
Thomas Bryant has been given a qualifying offer from the Wizards, making him a restricted free agent.
Bryant surprised last season, coming from obscurity to finish with top-125/100 value (8/9-cat). That despite Scott Brooks toying with his minutes. If the Wizards can keep Bryant around last season's workload he'll easily be a steal in fantasy leagues, though we're obviously hoping he takes hold of the starting job.
Source: Fred Katz on Twitter
June 26, 2019, 6:30 pmRomeo Langford - PG - Boston Celtics
The Celtics start Summer League practice this weekend but first-round pick Romeo Langford will not be cleared for full contact.
Langford is recovering from right thumb surgery, which is not expected to have any significant long-term effects. This is just the Celtics taking it easy on their new rookie. Hopefully he's cleared before Summer League ends, otherwise we'll get our first look at him in preseason.
Source: Adam Himmelsbach on Twitter
June 26, 2019, 5:58 pmEnes Kanter - C - Trail Blazers
The Blazers, Lakers and Celtics are among the teams that will be interested in free agent Enes Kanter, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
Portland knows Kanter well and would surely like to have him back after his admirable work filling in for an injured Jusuf Nurkic, while playing through his own serious ailments, in the playoffs. The Celtics could use a ferocious rebounder to replace Aron Baynes and are barren at the center spot with Al Horford's departure, while the Lakers are lining up cost-effective depth with their roster almost completely empty. Kanter might not replicate his Knicks numbers, but he'll be a standard-league asset no matter where he lands.
Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter
June 26, 2019, 5:51 pmCheick Diallo - PF - New Orleans Pelicans
Cheick Diallo will be an unrestricted free agent after the Pelicans decided not to extend him a qualifying offer.
Diallo has solid per-minute output but the playing time has never been there for him in New Orleans. He's got talent and good work ethic, but the league is flooded with available big men at the moment. Hopefully Diallo lands in a spot where he can continue his development.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 26, 2019, 5:43 pmNikola Mirotic - PF - Milwaukee Bucks
Nikola Mirotic is another player on the Mavs' list of free agent targets, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas News.
Mirotic is not as high on the list as Patrick Beverley, but the Mavs see the stretch forward as a potential fit. While Mirotic ended the postseason out of the rotation for Milwaukee, he's going to be a hot commodity given his floor-spacing and should hold solid standard-league value no matter where he ends up.
Source: Dallas News
June 26, 2019, 5:39 pmTobias Harris - SF - Philadelphia Sixers
The Clippers, Mavs, Nets, Nuggets, Wolves, Kings, Grizzlies and Pelicans are expected to be interested in Tobias Harris once free agency opens.
The Clippers are the most surprising team on the list, but only because they dealt Harris unexpectedly last season. Even so, the team and player had success together and the relationship wasn't necessarily damaged by the deal. Harris is one of the top second-tier free agents available and should have his pick of competitive offers. The Sixers are said to be confident about re-signing him, but they won't be able to do so without a fight.
Source: The Athletic
June 26, 2019, 5:30 pmJulius Randle - PF - New Orleans Pelicans
The Bulls are expected to indicate "early interest" in Julius Randle, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.
Randle is coming off a career year and is looking to cash in. The Bulls have plenty of space available and won't be in the mix for max players, so there's definitely a fit salary-wise if Chicago can get in on Randle before other teams pivot off the top players. It would be a pain for fantasy players however, as Randle joining a frontcourt that already features Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. would put a cap on each player. The Knicks and Nets are also interested in Randle, and we'll hear about more suitors in the coming days.
Source: The Athletic
June 26, 2019, 5:25 pmRondae Hollis-Jefferson - SF - Brooklyn Nets
Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting that the Wolves, Rockets and Suns are among the teams that are interested in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Hollis-Jefferson had a brutal season, injuring his groin in a charity game last summer and never catching up. He fell out of the rotation at times, just one year after emerging as a potential long-term solution at power forward. RHJ is a worthwhile reclamation project for any team and is not that far removed from top-100 fantasy output. He's not someone to forget on draft day, depending on where he lands.
Source: The Athletic
June 26, 2019, 5:22 pmCory Joseph - PG - Indiana Pacers
The Suns, Wizards, Kings and Bulls are among the teams that have shown interest in Cory Joseph, per Shams Charania.
Point-guard-needy teams should be all over Joseph, as he can be a cost-effective backup and acceptable fill-in starter to help any young players learn the ropes. CoJo figures to get more interest as the top guards on the market sign on, as his game fits with just about any team — from rebuilds to contenders.
Source: The Athletic