Portland Trail Blazers: Phoenix Suns Deandre Ayton exposes Jusuf Nurkic

Deandre Ayton, Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, 2022 NBA free agency (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Deandre Ayton, Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, 2022 NBA free agency (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /
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Richaun Holmes, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings
Richaun Holmes, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

The Portland Trail Blazers could sign Richaun Holmes in free agency

One of the easiest ways to solve this issue would be to sign a stopper to back up Nurkic in free agency. While any NBA team would love to have a true defensive center, there are few options entering this offseason without a guaranteed contract.

One of the best options available this summer will be Sacramento Kings big Richaun Holmes.

Holmes took a little bit of time to develop in the NBA. He started off as one of the players added during the Sam Hinkie “The Process” era. In Philadelphia, he came off the bench for the 76ers as they were trying to lose as many games as possible to secure optimal draft position.

He eventually was traded to the Phoenix Suns for a cash return. There, he came off the pine but played well enough to earn interest from the Sacramento Kings. The Kings signed him in free agency to be their new starting center after Willie Cauley-Stein moved on. He inked a 2-year, $9.7 million contract with Sacramento in 2019, according to Spotrac.

In 2020-2021, Holmes averaged 14.2 points, 8.3 boards, and 1.6 blocks per night, playing 29.2 minutes a game for the Kings. While he’s not topping the block leaderboards, Richaun has a tangible and quantifiable impact on defense. The Kings this year allowed 116 points per 100 possessions with Holmes off the court. When he was in the game, that number slides down to 114.6.

In this play from a May matchup against the Indiana Pacers, Holmes shows off his defensive range. He first picks up Domantas Sabonis, an unnaturally agile big, in transition and forces the ball out of his hands. His defensive instincts have him drifting into the paint, perfectly positioning him to challenge Kelan Martin on the drive. Holmes uses his athleticism to erase the shot cleanly without fouling.

While Nurkic is a savvy defender, his limits athletically would prevent him from making this type of play. Holmes’s top-level athleticism puts him in a rare group of centers that are capable of feats like the one shown.

Holmes has played well enough to reportedly seek an $80 million extension from the Kings, per James Ham for NBCSports. He also reported though, that the market for Holmes’s services land between $9-11 million per year.

If this is true, Portland would be out of the running as the best they can offer this free agency is their roughly $5.3 million mid-level exception.

Of course, free agency is usually a crapshoot and while any team would be lucky to have Holmes on the roster, the traditional center mold is becoming less and less of a priority for NBA team builders. If the market for him is weaker than his camp expects, the Blazers could have a shot at signing him on a short-term deal with their MLE.

Playing on a winning team with a large role, both aspects that can be provided by the Blazers, could be the best move for the future of his career. It’s certainly worth a shot from Portland.

If Holmes stays in Sacramento or takes his talents outside Portland, there are other options that the Blazers could explore that provide the same benefits as Richaun to a lesser extent.

Other affordable free agents that Portland should inquire about include: Bismack Biyombo, Dewayne Dedmon, and Nerlens Noel. Each of those bigs are purer rim protectors than Nurkic and could also be signed for the veterans minimum, which would allow the Blazers to save their MLE for a different need.

The Blazers need to explore addressing their interior defense in free agency.