It feels like all eyes are on the Portland Trail Blazers as the franchise finds itself navigating a delicate balance between appeasing a Damian Lillard trade request and charting a course for the future.
Amid rumors of Lillard’s departure, there’s a strategic necessity to include the team’s center, Jusuf Nurkic, in any potential deal.
While we don’t know what the trade package involving Lillard will be, it’s clear that he will command a “star-level return package.”
It’s possible that Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin can make any reasonable demand he wants in a Lillard deal. With this in mind, Nurkic’s inclusion in any potential Dame trade is critical due to a combination of financial, strategic, and rebuilding reasons.
First, let’s consider the financial aspect. Nurkic is set to make $16,875,000, $18,125,000, and $19,375,000 over the next three seasons. Although I believe he is well worth his contract, that’s a lot to pay for an often-injured center on a rebuilding team.
With Lillard on board, paying the 28-year-old Bosnian Beast makes sense. He has chemistry with Dame and has a strong impact on the court when healthy and motivated. Without Lillard, he’s unnecessary and better served on a team that is playing to contend right now.
What complicates trading Nurkic’s contract is how large he and Lillard’s combined salaries are. If we take a possible trade scenario with the Miami Heat as an example, the deal would likely center around younger players like Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson. However, trading for Lillard and Nurkic, who collectively represent over $62 million in contracts for the upcoming season, would put the Heat significantly over the NBA’s tax apron.
Even though the Heat may be willing to pay a hefty tax bill, it’s a factor that must be considered in any potential deal. This makes a third team’s inclusion even more likely.
Strategically, Nurkic’s inclusion makes sense as it allows the Blazers to maximize their return in a Lillard trade. Nurkic put up 13.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and a surprising 36.1 percent from three last season. He would be an improvement at the five for many teams with championship aspirations.
By packaging Nurkic and Lillard together, the Blazers could demand a higher return in terms of young talent and future draft picks. This would be crucial for their rebuilding efforts, especially when considering they’ve recently drafted young talents like Scoot Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe.
From a rebuilding perspective, the Trail Blazers’ roster composition would be significantly younger post-trade, which might not align with Nurkic’s career or contract timeline. The Bosnian center, who is in the prime of his career, might be better suited playing on a team ready to compete for a championship now, rather than waiting for the Blazers’ young core to develop.
The inclusion of Jusuf Nurkic in a potential Damian Lillard trade serves multiple purposes. It could provide financial balance to a deal, increase the return for the Blazers, and align better with Nurkic’s career goals.
However, it’s important to note that these scenarios are speculative and depend heavily on how the Blazers’ offseason unfolds and the demands of any potential trade partners.