4 Teams that would be better fits for Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic

Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers - Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers - Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /
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It’s never easy to say goodbye to a franchise stalwart. Portland Trail Blazers fans have had to say goodbye to luminaries like Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler, and Brandon Roy in the past while bidding farewell to LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and CJ McCollum in more recent years.

As Portland pivots to a new era of the franchise after nabbing the third overall pick, it may be time to say goodbye to Jusuf Nurkic.

After acquiring Nurkic and a first-round pick for Mason Plumlee and a second-rounder during the 2016-2017 season, Nurkic came off the bench for his first game in Portland and has started every game he’s played in since, playoffs or otherwise.

Across seven seasons with the Blazers, Nurkic has averaged 14 points, almost 10 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and a block as the poster boy for consistently good play.

Consistently good play on offense, however, has a limit to its utility, especially as Nurkic ages and his physical tools become less prominent. Nurk is a poor defender due to a lack of foot speed and instincts on that end of the floor.

Playing him at center has been a recipe for poor defense. Since the 2017-2018 season when the Blazers were sixth in defensive efficiency and the 2018-2019 season when they were 16th, the team hasn’t finished above 27th in that stat.

Not all of that can be heaped onto Nurkic’s shoulders, as Damian Lillard has worked through some injuries and the talent level of Portland’s roster has gone down since it made a Western Conference Finals run, but as his archetype of center, it takes a very narrow band of possible team constructions to get the most out of him.

That doesn’t mean, however, that he has no more use in the NBA. Nurkic is only 28 years old and has three years left on his contract. For another team in the NBA that needs a burly scoring center, Nurkic could be the perfect fit as the Blazers go in a different direction.

In particular, there are four franchises that, if he becomes available via trade, could have their eyes on Portland’s big man and could send the Blazers something of value in return.

Jusuf Nurkic New Home #1: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls are a team that, like the Trail Blazers, have been eager to contend for a title, yet have fallen short each of the past few years. They sprinted out to a great record in the East last year before the All-Star break behind a pair of virtuoso performances from DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, but since last February, the team has limped to a 48-57 record in the regular season.

The Bulls find themselves at a critical juncture, as they needed their lottery pick (which now belongs to Orlando as part of the Nikola Vucevic trade) and have limited options to improve their team. To make matters more taxing, Vucevic is an unrestricted free agent and could price himself out of the team’s range, leaving them with a massive hole in the middle of their lineup.

If Chicago wants to shore up the center spot for the foreseeable future without breaking the bank, it could acquire a younger, cheaper, and more athletic center in Nurkic.

Nurk is used to being the third banana on a team after his time with Lillard and McCollum and could provide the Bulls with the back-line help they need on offense.

For the Blazers, a trade with Chicago could scale in a variety of ways. Add more salary and sound players, and the team could acquire LaVine or DeRozan. If they covet a young forward like Pat Williams, they could throw in this year’s 23rd overall pick.

Or, if they simply want to swap one player for another, they could snag a defensive demon like Alex Caruso:

While it wouldn’t help fill the center spot, adding a player like Caruso would help the Blazers get closer to contending for the playoffs. His defense, energy, and ball-handling are all good enough to make him a key player or sixth man off of the bench.

Pairing Shaedon Sharpe or Anfernee Simons with a stopper like Caruso could open up their games and do wonders for the team’s chances in the non-Lillard minutes, which is exactly what they need to return to the postseason.