The Portland Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets have reached an agreement on a trade involving two big men. Portland, a team in desperate need of some rim protection and an upgrade at the center spot, will send Mason Plumlee to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic.
The Blazers are also sending a 2018 second-round draft pick in the deal while the Nuggets are including a 2017 first-round pick. Portland now has three first-round picks in the talented 2017 draft.
Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical first reported the trade:
Sources on @TheVertical: Portland sends Denver center Mason Plumlee and '18 2nd-round pick for Jusuf Nurkic and '17 first-rounder (via Griz)— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) February 12, 2017
"We are pleased to add a young center with Jusuf's talent and potential to our roster and excited by the prospect of three first round picks in the 2017 NBA Draft," said Blazers GM Neil Olshey in a release. "We also want to thank Mason for his many contributions to the organization these past two seasons. His presence will be missed and we wish him all the best for the future."
Let's grade the trade:
Nuggets get Mason Plumlee
The Nuggets may be six games under .500 but they are currently the eighth seed in the West, and this move signals their commitment to making the playoffs. This is a win-now sort of move for Denver: Nurkic is still developing as a player while Plumlee is more polished and quite versatile. Plumlee also gives Denver more depth and is another healthy big.
While Plumlee is not a flashy name, he is a hard worker and has blossomed in Portland. He sets good screens, is an excellent passer and a fine defender. Plumlee's passing ability makes him unique among big men and should allow him to play alongside Nikola Jokic in big lineups for Denver. His durability should also benefit Denver, especially since Plumlee started every game since last season for Portland. He is also averaging career-highs with 11.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
Nurkic may eventually become a better player than Plumlee, but with Denver's success this season and the rise of Jokic, the Nuggets decided to move on. They have another talented young big in Juan Hernangomez as well. Plus, Nurkic didn't fit great with Jokic as they two were paired as starters early in the season but this created spacing issues in Denver.
The addition of a first-round selection may seem like a lot but it will likely be in the low teens or 20s. The pick is owned by the Grizzlies, which the Nuggets acquired in Denver's 2015 trade with Cleveland for Timofey Mozgov. It is top-five protected and since Memphis is heading to the playoffs, the pick will be later in the first round. Also the Nuggets still have their own 2017 first-round pick and get Portland's 2018 second-round pick as well.
Overall grade: B+
Blazers get Jusuf Nurkic
Plumlee was a beloved teammate and a key member of Portland. He set great screens for C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard and with his ability to cut to the rim, Plumlee was on the receiving end of many alley-oop passes. But while he was beneficial to Portland, the Blazers were in desperate need of size and protection at the rim. Portland is 27th overall in defensive rating and has struggled all season on defense.
Nurkic should definitely help the Blazers on the defensive end. He is a strong 7-footer that gives Portland some much-needed bulk at the center spot. The Blazers were hoping that Festus Ezeli would fill this type of role but he has yet to play for Portland this season because of injury.
Nurkic can also score in the low post and is a good rebounder. This season, Nurkic is averaging 8.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists in 17.9 minutes. At 22, he's also four years younger than Plumlee and has the potential to be a great center. He played quite well as a rookie but then was injured for the majority of last season.
Portland also made this deal because Plumlee is a restricted free agent. After signing Evan Turner and then re-signing Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless while also giving a long-term extension to McCollum, the Blazers would've had a tough time re-signing Plumlee. They would have gone into the luxury tax to do so and since they've been largely mediocre this season, spending a lot to bring Plumlee back wouldn't have made sense.
Having now three first-round picks in what appears to be a talented 2017 draft is a major plus for Portland. It also gives the Blazers the option of trading one or two picks in order to change up their roster even more.
This deal essentially takes the Blazers out of the playoff race and allows Denver to have the eighth seed. And while this is a step back for Portland after making the second round last season, with a sub .500 record, planning for the future now is the smart and savvy move.