Portland Trail Blazers

Jusuf Nurkic Looking To Stay With Blazers Long-Term

The Trail Blazers and center Jusuf Nurkic didn’t reach an agreement on a rookie scale extension prior to October’s deadline, but the two sides have interest in a long-term deal and are expected to resume talks in the summer, agent Aylton Tesch tells Ben Golliver of SI.com.

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch said. “We had some [extension] talks, but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

Nurkic, 23, looked great in Portland down the stretch last season, averaging 15.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, and 1.9 BPG in 20 games for the club after being traded to the Blazers by the Nuggets. However, his season ended early due to a broken leg. Considering he spent most of the offseason recovering from that injury, and the Blazers only got a brief look at him in 2016/17, it made sense that the team wanted to see more before committing to a lucrative, long-term deal.

So far this season, Nurkic’s play has been a little up and down, but he’s averaging a solid 14.6 PPG and 7.2 RPG in 16 starts. The Bosnian big man is also happy playing in Portland after spending the first two and a half years of his NBA career in Denver, where the Nuggets often had an overcrowded frontcourt.

As Golliver details, Nurkic and his agent requested a trade multiple times during his stint in Denver, with the Nuggets fulfilling the trade request his camp made during the 2016/17 season. Nurkic, who felt like outsiders viewed him as a player with an attitude problem when he was a Nugget, was seeking an opportunity where he could be the full-time starting center, and was grateful that Denver was able to accommodate that wish.

“I needed a change of scenery. Both sides needed it,” Nurkic said. “I’m thankful Denver let me go where I wanted to go. If I was doing all the bad things that people said, the Nuggets wouldn’t have traded me where I wanted to go, and they probably would have gotten a way better deal than they got.”

Nurkic will be a restricted free agent in 2018, giving the Blazers the opportunity to match any offer sheet he may sign. While Portland would presumably like to retain the young center, the team already has more than $110MM in salary guarantees on its books for 2018/19, so a new deal for Nurkic figures to increase that total beyond the tax threshold, barring another salary dump.

Lillard Comes To Defense Of Stotts

  • Damian Lillard is coming to the defense of Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts, who is under fire for the team’s sluggish start, writes Mike Richman of The Oregonian. The heat was turned up after Friday’s loss to Sacramento, which prompted Lillard to respond to fans on Instagram. “Late game turnovers and not getting stops has nothing to do with a coach,” Lillard wrote. “Blame me then. This the NBA … we play 82 games and we’ve played 15 and won more than we’ve lost. Relax family.”

Shabazz Napier Shows Skills With New Opportunity

2018 Salary Cap Outlook: Northwest Division

NBA rosters will undergo some changes over the course of the 2017/18 season, particularly around the trade deadline, and those changes may have an impact on teams’ cap sheets for future seasons. Based on the NBA’s current rosters, however, we can identify which teams are most and least likely to have cap room in the summer of 2018, which will dictate the type of moves those clubs can make in the offseason.

We’re taking a closer look at each of the NBA’s 30 teams by division this week. Today, we’re tackling the Northwest division. With the help of salary information compiled by Basketball Insiders, here’s how the summer of 2018 is shaping up for the five Northwest teams:

Portland Trail BlazersJusuf Nurkic vertical
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $110,456,026
Projection: Over the cap

The Trail Blazers reduced their future commitments by trading Allen Crabbe to Brooklyn earlier this year, and Ed Davis will come off the books next summer, giving Portland a chance to avoid the luxury tax in 2018/19. However, their $110MM+ in guaranteed salaries for next season doesn’t include a contract for Jusuf Nurkic, who will be a restricted free agent. If they want to re-sign Nurkic and don’t dump another salary, the Blazers figure to return to tax territory.

Minnesota Timberwolves
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $110,233,979
Projection: Over the cap

The Timberwolves’ salary commitments look a lot different now than they did a year ago. Gorgui Dieng‘s lucrative new extension went into effect this summer, and Andrew Wiggins‘ max deal will begin in 2018. Throw in substantial salaries for offseason acquisitions Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson, and Minnesota projects to be well over the cap for 2018/19. With a potential extension for Karl-Anthony Towns looming for 2019/20, the Wolves won’t have cap space for the foreseeable future if they intend to keep their current core group together.

Denver Nuggets
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $89,903,848
Projection: Over the cap

The Nuggets’ guaranteed salaries for 2018/19 currently sit around $90MM, but even based on a $101MM cap projection, we shouldn’t expect the team to have any room. There are too many factors working against it.

For one, Denver will face a tough decision on Nikola Jokic — exercising his ultra-affordable $1.6MM team option would put him on track to become an unrestricted free agency in 2019, so the club may opt to decline that option and make him a restricted free agent. In that scenario, a new contract for Jokic would push the Nuggets over the cap.

Even if they simply pick up Jokic’s cheap option, the Nuggets will also have to consider player options for Kenneth Faried ($12.8MM) and Darrell Arthur ($7.5MM). Arthur is a good bet to exercise his option, and even though Faried hasn’t always loved his role in Denver, it’s possible he’ll pick up his too, since it features a pretty player-friendly salary.

Oklahoma City Thunder
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $88,907,222
Projection: Over the cap

Carmelo Anthony‘s early termination option for 2018/19, worth nearly $28MM, is a major X factor for the Thunder, whose guaranteed team salary would increase from approximately $89MM to nearly $117MM if Anthony opts in. Taking into account Carmelo’s age, his production trends, and the current state of the free agent market, it makes sense for him to play out the final year of his current deal, so we’re penciling in Oklahoma City as a probable over-the-cap team.

Even if Anthony opts out and Paul George doesn’t re-sign, OKC could only get up to about $8.8MM in cap room. That’s barely more than the projected value of the mid-level exception, so even in that scenario, the Thunder may simply remain over the cap to avoid renouncing all their exceptions.

Utah Jazz
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $67,839,543
Projection: Up to approximately $28MM in cap room

Only six Jazz players have fully guaranteed salaries for 2018/19, while seven others have non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed salaries, or are restricted free agents. That gives Utah some flexibility if the team wants to maximize its cap room.

However, retaining Thabo Sefolosha for his reasonable non-guaranteed salary of $5.25MM would cut into the Jazz’s space, as would re-signing Rodney Hood and/or Dante Exum. Realistically, unless Utah decides to only hang onto those six fully guaranteed players and make major changes around them, we shouldn’t expect the club to enter July 2018 armed with a ton of cap room.

Previously:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Blazers' Napier Wants To Prove NBA Career Is Not A Flop

Nurkic Isn't Pouting About Crunch-Time Minutes

  • Jusuf Nurkic isn’t brooding over his lack of crunch-time minutes in recent games, Mike Richman of The Oregonian reports. Coach Terry Stotts has gone with the backup Ed Davis in the fourth quarter the last two games but the starting Trail Blazers center says he’s not upset. “No drama, man,”  Nurkic told Richman. “It’s all about the [next] game.”

Crabbe Still Has Fondness For Portland

  • Nets guard Allen Crabbe didn’t hide his nostalgia for Portland when he returned to the city Friday for the first time since a July trade, relays Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. Crabbe spent four seasons with the Trail Blazers before the deal and says he still has fond feelings for the organization. However, he believes he has a greater opportunity to become a full-time player in Brooklyn. “It’s everything an NBA player would want,” Crabbe said. “To be a key piece to a team. I don’t think it was going to happen [in Portland].”

Northwest Notes: Carmelo, Westbrook, Leonard

During the offseason, the Thunder added two forces in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to play alongside reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, but the offense has yet to look explosive. The team is scoring just 102.5 points per game, a figure that ranks 23rd in the league.

George, who can become a free agent at the end of the season, believes the team’s struggles are due to playing too much iso-ball.

“We put pressure on individuals,” George said after the team’s loss to the Kings on Tuesday (via Brett Dawson of the Oklahoman). “When we get stagnant, we put pressure on individuals, and we’re too good of a team one through 14 – especially with that starting five – we’re too good of a team to allow ourselves to put pressure on one another.”

According to Dawson, Anthony ranks second in the league in isolation possessions with 6.6 per contest. Westbrook comes in at 3.2 per game (ranked 19th in the league) and George is at 3.0 (21st).

Here’s more from the Northwest:

  • Westbrook isn’t concerned about the Thunder’s lack of cohesion on the court, Dawson adds in the same piece. “I’m encouraged by the group of guys we have in that (locker) room,” Westbrook said. “I will be better. I take ownership in how we’re playing. I will be better and we will be better, so I’m not worried.”
  • Meyers Leonard could return to the court next week, which is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a right lateral ankle sprain, Mike Richman of the Oregonian relays. The Trail Blazers center sustained the injury on October 25 and was expected to miss four-to-six weeks.

C.J. McCollum Discusses Recruitment Of Carmelo

In a conversation with TNT’s David Aldridge at NBA.com, Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum discussed his club’s performance so far, his shoe deal with Li Ning, Jusuf Nurkic‘s impact on the Blazers, and several other topics. Among those topics? Portland’s relatively quiet offseason. While McCollum has confidence in the Blazers’ core group, he acknowledged to Aldridge that he did make an effort to recruit Carmelo Anthony when the All-Star forward was on the trade block.

“I mean, I figured why not? Why not recruit someone you think can help your team?” McCollum said. “I just told him the truth. … I told him one time how he could help [the Trail Blazers], and that was basically the end of it. I felt like when someone’s a free agent and you know them and you’re around them, you need to share how you think they can help you and how you think you can help them. They have the right to make their own decision, and I think he’s happy where he’s at, and I wish him the best except when they play us.”

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