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)
May 31, 2020, 8:10 pmKz OkpalaF, Miami Heat
Kz Okpala's offensive game has come a long way since January according to Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon.
Okpala is already viewed as an NBA-ready defender, and once his offensive game is up to speed the Heat will have a hard time not getting him into the rotation. He spent 20 games in the G League and five with the Heat before the suspension slowed down his progression in 2020. Okpala got off to a slow start due to injuries, and a trade on draft day took away his chance to play in summer league. While this season is unlikely to amount to anything, Okpala is someone to watch in deeper leagues next year.
Source: Miami Herald
May 31, 2020, 8:03 pmGabe VincentPG, Miami Heat
Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon, stated that Gabe Vincent's knee is "good to go".
It sounds like Vincent would have no problem being NBA ready if the Heat decided to call up the two-way guard when play hopefully resumes July 31. Vincent is a strong 3-point shooter with the ability to attack a closeout, but it is still unlikely the Heat will need to put him on the floor for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
Source: Miami Herald
May 31, 2020, 7:51 pmShake MiltonSG, Philadelphia Sixers
According to projections by Mike O'Connor and Derek Bodner of The Athletic, Shake Milton will be a starter for the Sixers whenever play relaunches.
Milton was thriving for the Sixers when the season was suspended due to COVID-19, and some risk remains that Ben Simmons will bump him from the rotation when the stoppage in play is lifted. In 16 starts with the Sixers, Milton averaged 14.1 points, 2.2 3-pointers, 3.6 assists, 3 rebounds and 1.1 steals. As a 3-pointer specialist along, Milton has earned a slot in 12-team formats, but things are going to be more difficult when he is forced to play off-ball in a fully healthy lineup in Philadelphia
Source: The Athletic
May 31, 2020, 7:42 pmKevin DurantSF, Brooklyn Nets
On a recent ESPN podcast featuring Adrian Wojnarowski and his colleague Zach Lowe, Wojnarowski stated that Kevin Durant (torn Achilles) would not play for the Nets this year.
Wojnarowski went onto say that he had no source that had relayed that information to him. The Nets have largely been deferring to Durant and the medical staff when it comes to his prospects for playing this year. While the organization may get hopeful that KD will lace it up for a playoff run, all signs are still pointing to him waiting until 2020-21.
Source: Anthony Puccio on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 7:43 pmEric GordonSG, Houston Rockets
Rockets guard Eric Gordon has improved his diet, focused on sprints, and has apparently shed 12 pounds in the process, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.
Gordon has battled knee ailments for essentially his whole career and has dealt with his fair share of nagging injuries this season as well. Losing weight to create a lighter frame would seem sensible, especially with the knee issues. The Rockets, remember, fully adopted the "small ball" lineup and move fast so Gordon is smart to keep his endurance and fitness at high levels. He's going to have to play well and make shots for the Rockets when the NBA returns to action, otherwise coach Mike D'Antoni won't be able to justify giving Gordon minutes. We don't anticipate much fantasy value out of him if and when the league starts back up.
Source: The Athletic
May 29, 2020, 6:03 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that the NBA is planning for a Board of Governors vote on Thursday, during which they are expected to approve Adam Silver's proposal for re-starting the season in Orlando.
The trend lines are all moving in this direction, and this adds another bullet point on the schedule as the league prepares for launching games on July 31. Adam Silver has been able to bridge any divides between ownership and the players, and has been taking into account all his key constituent's views as we approach approval of a plan for moving forward. We still have plenty of items to resolve before we see game action, but the NBA is gaining momentum as these details come into place.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 4:44 pmBradley BealSG, Washington Wizards
On Friday, the Wizards resumed holding voluntary workouts at their practice facilities.
The Wizards have joined a chorus of teams that are returning in limited capacities to their facilities at this point. The NBA as a whole is continuing its march towards the resumption of play with a target date of July 31 now established. The District of Columbia also entered phase one of reopening today, and it makes sense for the team to proceed on a similar trajectory.
Source: Candace Buckner on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 4:03 pmJulius RandlePF, New York Knicks
Part of the Knicks' off-season thinking is to shape the roster around RJ Barrett, and it unclear where Julius Randle will fit in those plans.
Barrett and Randle have similar offensive styles, as they typically have an advantage relying upon their strength to attack the basket, but neither has a component deep ball at this stage in their careers. As Barrett is the younger option it makes sense that the Knicks want to sign shooters to give him more space to operate with. Randle's lousy percentages and turnovers has made for a disappointing season with the Knicks thus far, and Barrett will also need to make some strides in the shooting department to become a 12-team asset. Randle is under contract for next season is owed at least $4,000,000 in 2021-22.
May 29, 2020, 3:46 pmJayson TatumSF, Boston Celtics
On Friday, the Celtics' announced that their practice facilities would reopen on June 1.
That leaves us with four NBA teams without access to their facilities. Things are beginning to accelerate throughout the league as teams ramp up activities in hopes of resuming competition in Orlando on July 31. So far so good, but the NBA still has many hurdles to overcome on the path to resuming the season.
Source: Celtics PR on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 3:40 pmRJ BarrettSF, New York Knicks
The Knicks reopened their practice facility for voluntary workouts on Friday.
Another step in the right direction for the NBA's return to action at the end of July. It's still unclear if the Knicks will even be involved in whatever plan is agreed upon, but it is good to learn that the players can now access their facilities in New York. Only five team facilities have not opened up in some capacity at this point.
Source: Knicks PR on Twitter