PORTLAND, Ore. -- On Sunday, the Portland Trail Blazers traded center Mason Plumlee, a 2018 second-round draft pick and an undisclosed amount of cash to the Denver Nuggets for Jusuf Nurkic and the Memphis Grizzlies' 2017 first-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 eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, would make this kind of trade midseason. 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-foot-11, 235-pound, 26-year-old center heads to Denver in the last year of 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 and willing passer. In the middle of a contract season, Plumlee is averaging 11 points, eight rebounds, and four 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 eight-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 in excess of $15 million.
2018 second-round draft pick: This is a minimal asset that isn’t worth much now. Teams love using second-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 second round of the draft. Their last couple years in the second round they have drafted Petr Cornelie, Daniel Hamilton and Nikola Radicevic. On notable exception was In 2014, when they drafted Nikola Jokic in the second round. They are now building their franchise around Jokic.
What Portland Got
Jusuf Nurkic: The 7-foot, 280-pound, 22-year-old center will likely start at center for the Blazers. The young center lost his spot in the starting lineup in Denver and has only averaged 18 minutes per game this season.
Nurkic has averaged eight points and six rebounds in slightly less than 18 minutes per game this season. His per-36-minute averages would be 16 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, compared to a 14.2, 10.3 and 1.5 from Plumlee per 36 minutes.
This swap of centers 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 reported to have some work-ethic and attitude issues. Guys that cover the team in Denver have said that Nurkic could be very good but allows his attitude to get in the way.
2017 first-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 first-rounders that the Blazers own and that’s quite a 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.
This gives the Blazers a bit of flexibility heading into the draft. The Blazers are not going to be players in free agency this summer. As we sit right now, the Blazers are committed to more than $130 million in salary next season, which is more than any team’s projected 2017-18 payroll. That will severely limit what they can do to change the makeup of this team.
These picks give Blazers general manager 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 second-round pick for a first-round pick in the upcoming draft. This looks like a win for the Blazers.
Just as a reminder, the three first-round picks that Neil Olshey has added to the Blazers roster since being hired by Portland are Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Meyers Leonard. Olshey is good at drafting and owner Paul Allen loves the draft process. Going into the draft with three first-round picks is something for Blazers fans to be excited about.
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