'The Business Sucks' And Other Player Reactions To Plumlee Reportedly Being Traded
The trade sending Mason Plumlee and a 2018 second round pick to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first round pick wasn't official when the Trail Blazers took the court for practice at their facility in Tualatin Sunday morning, so both Neil OIshey, Portland's President of Basketball Operations, and head coach Terry Stotts were forbidden from discussing the reported deal. That will have to wait until the NBA officially signs off on the trade, which will likely happen early next week assuming no unforeseen issues arise.
But players are not bound by those restrictions, so Plumlee's now former teammates were able to discuss their thoughts on losing their starting center and one of the leaders in Portland's locker room.
"I was very surprised," said Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. "I figured if it was going to happen with anybody, it wouldn’t be Mase just because he meant that much to our team, did so many things for our team on the floor. If you have some guys that are really good at rebounding, making plays and running the floor, good athletes, they bring so many things to the team and not all the time are they great teammates, they actively care, constantly watching film. Every flight you walk by Mase and see he was watching the game, guaranteed. You don’t find people that committed to being a better player and as committed to our team as he was. So we’re going to miss him. I’m definitely going to miss him as a point guard. It’s a tough one."
Plumlee, who the Trail Blazers acquired during the 2015 Draft along with Pat Connaughton in exchange for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Steve Blake, didn't miss a single game during his year and a half run in Portland, starting and playing in 136 games while averaging 9.9 points on 52 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.1 blocks in 26.5 minutes per game. After being somewhat underutilized his first two season with the Brooklyn Nets, Plumlee distinguished himself as an adept playmaker as a part of a Trail Blazers team that made it to the second round of the 2016 Western Conference playoffs despite being picked as one of the worst teams in the NBA going into the 2015-16 regular season.
"Starting center does a lot for us," said Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum. "(Plumlee) handles the ball, a lot of responsibilities playmaking. He’s just a glue guy that you want on your team. He’s a guy who does things the right way, never complains and he’s getting better. He put together a nice string of 20, 25 games to where he’s getting double-doubles, making his free throws, finishing in the lane. And he’s a good guy. That’s what matters the most, he’s a good guy."
How well Plumlee meshed with the likes of Lillard and McCollum, both in terms of his style of play and personality, gave some of the team the impression that he might be the long-term starter at center going forward, including Lillard, who said Plumlee was one of the best teammates he's ever played with.
"We had a lot of talks and a lot of it was long term, about us just continuing to grow and staying together," said Lillard. "I vented to (Plumlee) a lot about what I thought we could do better and what I thought he could do more and he did the same with me. We had a lot of those conversations and a lot of it went past this year. I’m sure it was sad for him to have to leave. You think you’re going to be a part of something special and then it’s cut short. It’s a tough one."
But what made Plumlee such a useful piece in Terry Stotts' offense is in many ways made him a prime target for trade. Between the Trail Blazers struggling to find the consistency this season that earned the team the 5th seed last season and Plumlee's status as a restricted free agent this offseason -- Portland would have had to go well into the luxury tax to match what one assumes will be a number of offers Plumlee will receive come July -- something had to give.
"For me, the best thing I could think of is it was going to be tough to keep (Plumlee)," said Lillard regarding where he had yet considered the positive aspects of the trade. "It was going to be hard to pay him because of the kind of player that he is. That’s as far as I’ve thought. As far as on the floor, he brought so much to the team, he did so much for us. We’re going to have to figure out how to move forward because he’s not coming back. We’re going to have to figure it out, guys going to have to step up... I mean, the business sucks man. You wish you could get a team together and put pieces together and you can keep it together. You wish you had the power to keep it together regardless of anything. It happens this way sometimes."
Especially if the Trail Blazers still have designs on making the postseason for the fourth straight season. While Nurkic will likely slide in as the starter at center for Portland, he brings a much different skillset than Plumlee, who was responsible for initiating much of the offense when opposing teams keyed in on Lillard and McCollum, and will need time to get up to speed with his new teammates and playing in a new system. And since there are six teams all within 2.5 games of the Nuggets for the 8th seed, the Trail Blazers don't have the luxury of a long get-to-know-you period if they want to move up in the standings.
"We’re a game out 8th, we’re still in the mix," said Lillard. "We have good players, obviously losing Mase is a blow but we have good players. We believe in ourselves and we’ve got to keep fighting. You’ve got to keep fighting and stay with it because you just never know what can happen. We’re definitely not in a state of our season is over. We’re going to fight, we still believe we’re going to be a playoff team and that’s what we’re going to work towards."