Already well-positioned with youth, talent and eventual salary-cap space, the Denver Nuggets’ situation appeared to get even brighter Sunday amid reports they had swapped center Jusuf Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers for big man Mason Plumlee. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnorawski was first with the news:
Portland sends Mason Plumlee a 2018 second round pick for Nurkic and a 2017 first-rounder (via Memphis), league sources tell @TheVertical— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 12, 2017
Portland has three first-round picks in the loaded 2017 NBA Draft now.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 12, 2017
Bobby Marks, Wojnorawski’s Vertical colleague, provided some context as the story unfolded:
DEN benefits from the low Plumlee cap hold in FA and $20m plus in cap space for 17-18. The Nuggets will have the right to match any offer.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) February 12, 2017
The emergence this season of Nuggets’ big Nikola Jokic pushed Nurkic to the side. Jokic, 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, is a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award in his second season, averaging 16.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists --many of them on spectacular passes -- in 26.6 minutes. As a rookie, the Serbian center’s numbers were 10.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 2.4 apg in 21.7 mpg.
Nurkic, a 7-foot, 280-pounder from Bosnia, hasn’t stepped up this season, his third in Denver, raising questions about his work ethic. Statistically he has backslid somewhat, averaging just 8.0 points and 5.8 minutes while averaging 17.9 minutes and failing to build on his rookie promise of two seasons ago.
Portland, with the league’s second-highest payroll behind only Cleveland, will focus its roster enhancements on the draft now rather than free-agent shopping. The 6-foot-11 Plumlee, 26, joins his third team after spending two seasons each with Portland and Brooklyn.