On Sunday, the Portland Trail Blazers traded center Mason Plumlee, a 2018 2nd round draft pick and an undisclosed amount of cash to the Denver Nuggets for Jusuf Nurkic and the Memphis Grizzlies 2017 1st round draft pick.
This trade was met with a mixed response by Blazer fans. It is a bit odd that two division rivals, battling it out for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, would make this kind of trade mid-season. Some fans saw it as a tanking move, some loved the deal. Let me break it down for you.
What Denver Got:
Mason Plumlee. The 6’11”, 235 pound, 26 year old center heads to Denver in the last year on his rookie contract. Plumlee is being paid $2,328,530 this season and will head into the summer as a restricted free agent.
On the court, Plumlee has developed as a playmaking center that is a willing passer. In the middle of a contract season, Plumlee averaged 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. Plumlee became a fan-favorite in Portland because of his attitude and work ethic on the court.
The reason Portland traded him now is simple; this summer Plumlee is going to command an annual 8-figure salary. Just as a baseline, his brother Miles, signed a 4-year $50 million contact last summer. That is $12,500,000 a season. It is widely believed through the league that Mason is the better Plumlee brother. He will command starting center money this summer, possibly $15 million+.
2018 2nd Round Draft Pick. This is a minimal asset that isn’t worth much now. Teams love using 2nd round picks in trades to make the other team feel a little better about the deal. About 18 months away from the draft, there is no telling where this pick will be in the draft or what kind of prospects will be available.
The Nuggets haven’t had particular success in the past few years in the 2nd round of the draft. Their last couple years in the 2nd round they have drafted Petr Cornelie, Daniel Hamilton, and Nikola Radicevic. Granted, in 2014 they drafted Nikola Jokic in the 2nd round who they are now building their franchise around.
What Portland Got:
Jusuf Nurkic. The 7’, 280 pound, 22 year old center will anchor the Blazers starting lineup when he arrives in Portland this week. The young center lost his spot in the starting lineup in Denver and has only averaged 18 hours per game this season.
Nurkic has averaged 8 points and 6 rebounds per game. His Per 36 minute averages would be 16 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36. That is compared to a 14.2, 10.3 and 1.5 line from Plumlee per 36 minutes.
Trading for Nurkic is a rest on a couple different levels. This center-swap makes the Blazers the youngest team in the league. Plumlee was an on-court leader and that hole will need to be filled by one of the remaining Blazers. Also, Nurkic is said to have some work ethic and attitude issues. Guys that cover the team in Denver have said that Nurkic could be as good as he wanted to be but lets his attitude get in the way.
2017 1st Round Draft Pick from Memphis. If the season were to end today, this pick would be the 22nd pick in the draft. Add this pick to the Cleveland and Portland 1st rounders that Portland owns and that’s quite the treasure trove of draft picks in what appears to be a pretty deep draft class. That means that as of right now the Blazers own the 11th, 22nd, and 27th picks in the upcoming draft.
Why this is absolutely crucial for the Blazers is because it is going to give the Blazers a bit of flexibility heading up to the draft. The Blazers are not going to be players in free agency this summer. The Blazers will have a HUGE payroll next season. As we sit right now, the team has over $130,000,000 committed next season, which is more than any team’s payroll this season. That is going to severely limit what they can do to change the makeup of this team.
These picks give Neil Olshey and the front office a chance to either bring in a few rookies to battle for spots, or to use the picks as trade assets in upcoming deals. This is the currency that this team needed to help continue this rebuild.
The Blazers sent an expiring contract of a fan favorite to Denver for a center that is on his rookie contract for the next season and a half. In addition to that, the team sent a future 2nd round pick for a 1st round pick in the upcoming draft. I would say that this is a win for the Blazers.
Just as a reminder, the three 1st round picks that Neil Olshey has added to the Blazer roster since being hired by Portland are Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Meyers Leonard. Blazer fans can rest assured that Olshey is good at drafting, and owner Paul Allen absolutely loves the draft process. Going into the draft with three 1st round picks would create a frenzy in Portland this summer!