Portland Trail Blazers

Ezeli Says Farewell; Napier Not Content As Backup

  • While it’s already been announced that the Trail Blazers won’t be bringing Festus Ezeli back next season, the big man officially said farewell to Portland over Twitter.
  • In a candid exit interview, backup Trail Blazers point guard Shabazz Napier said that while he understands coming off the bench and has bought into the team’s process he isn’t necessarily comfortable with it. Sean Meagher of the Oregonian broke down the guard’s comments about the organization.

Nuggets GM Discusses Nurkic, Gallinari, Defense

Earlier tonight, we shared Nuggets GM Tim Connelly’s announcement that rookie guard Jamal Murray will have surgery tomorrow. Here are a few other highlights of Connelly’s radio interview with Altitude Sports 950, all tweeted by Chris Dempsey:

  • Although Jusuf Nurkic blossomed into a key player in Portland, Connelly doesn’t regret the February deal that sent him to the Trail Blazers. Portland acquired Nurkic and a first-round pick this year in exchange for Mason Plumlee and a 2018 second-rounder. “We think Mason is going to be a huge piece of our core,” Connelly said.
  • Re-signing free agent forward Danilo Gallinari will be the top off-season priority. Gallinari has been with the Nuggets since 2011 when he was acquired in the Carmelo Anthony deal. Connelly also hopes to reach a new deal with Plumlee, who will be a restricted free agent, and work out an extension for third-year guard Gary Harris.
  • Another objective is to add a stronger defensive presence around breakout star Nikola Jokic.
  • Connelly believed 39 wins would be enough to grab the West’s final playoff spot. The Nuggets finished 40-42, but Portland was a game better. Connelly insists he would have been more active at the trade deadline if he had known the team would miss the postseason.
  • The organization is making progress in changing the league-wide perception about Denver as a place to play and live. Connelly said several lottery prospects in a recent draft were “begging” the Nuggets to select them because they wanted to be in the city.
  • The team needs a “pecking order” in the locker room, with a strong veteran presence to guide younger players. “Maybe our biggest struggle since I’ve been here,” Connelly said, “is we haven’t had a pecking order.” He adds that the organization has also encountered problems with “role acceptance” among players.

2017 Offseason Salary Cap Digest: Portland Trail Blazers

After an unexpected second-round playoff run a year ago, the Trail Blazers underwhelmed in 2016/17, sneaking into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed and failing to win a single postseason game. The Blazers did unearth a gem when they acquired Jusuf Nurkic in a February trade, but the team’s cap situation will make it very difficult for the front office to make major upgrades to the roster this summer.

Here’s where things currently stand for the Trail Blazers financially, as we continue our Offseason Salary Cap Digest series for 2017:

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

  • Festus Ezeli ($6,733,000) — Partial guarantee. Guaranteed portion noted above.1
  • Pat Connaughton ($1,471,382)2
  • Tim Quarterman ($1,312,611)
  • Total: $9,516,993

Restricted Free Agents

  • None

Cap Holds

  • No. 15 overall pick ($2,365,560)
  • No. 20 overall pick ($1,859,400)
  • No. 26 overall pick ($1,465,920)
  • Total: $5,690,880

Projected Salary Cap: $101,000,000

Maximum Cap Room: $38,119,655

  • Portland has an extraordinary amount of money tied up in guaranteed salaries for next season. If the Blazers were to waive all their players on non-guaranteed salaries, the club’s remaining salaries for 2017/18 – along with cap holds for first-round draft picks – would total $139,119,655, a figure that would be well above the tax line. Trades to clear some salary are possible, but the Blazers are a virtual lock to remain over the cap this offseason.

Footnotes:

  1. Ezeli’s salary becomes fully guaranteed after June 30.
  2. Connaughton’s salary becomes fully guaranteed after July 25.

Salary information from Basketball Insiders and The Vertical was used in the creation of this post.

Blazers GM Talks Draft, Lillard, McCollum, Nurkic

During his end-of-season press conference with reporters on Tuesday, Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey confirmed that injured center Festus Ezeli won’t be back on the roster next season, as we noted yesterday. However, that wasn’t the only topic of interest that Olshey touched on during his session with local media.

Mike Richman of The Oregonian has the transcript of several noteworthy comments from the Trail Blazers GM, who provided lengthy and thoughtful answers to many questions about the state of the roster and specific players. The whole piece is worth checking out, particularly for Blazers fans, but here are some of the highlights from Olshey:

On the Blazers’ offseason outlook:

“I think this is the first summer where we haven’t had cap room since I’ve been here. … I think a lot of the growth of the roster is going to come internally. We had the youngest team in the league this year. We had the youngest team in the playoffs for the second year in a row. So I think we have to grow internally too.

“But the three (first-round) draft picks — we moved the Cleveland pick into this year and that was done strategically knowing we weren’t going to have as many resources in terms of cap room or exceptions. So, the three draft picks give us a lot of flexibility. Not just in acquiring players through the draft, but as tools to get deals done. It’s why we were so aggressive in trying to add an additional pick.”

On the possibility of trading either Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum:

“The odds of anything ever coming up of commensurate value is so hard to even fathom. I could give you the trite answer that nobody is untradable, but clearly they are.”

On Jusuf Nurkic‘s emergence after being traded to Portland:

“Look, I’m not going to sit here and tell you Nurk was going to do what he did and they were going to have folk songs written about him in Bosnia or anything else. But we also know when you look at his advanced numbers, this was a guy capable of averaging a double-double if given the opportunity. (Nuggets GM) Tim Connelly and his staff did an unbelievable job. They not only found Jusuf Nurkic. They found a guy who beat out Jusuf Nurkic through the draft, middle of the first and late second. They did their part. But we’ve seen it on our roster. There are times you’ve got to give guys up. We all knew how talented Will Barton was, but we were trying to make an upgrade at the time and we had Allen Crabbe, we had Wes (Matthews), we had C.J. I think that’s the situation [Denver] ended up in.”

On how Nurkic’s breakout second half affects the Blazers’ summer plans:

“We’re not looking for a center. Quite honestly, when we got here five years ago we thought we were 60% of the way to a starting lineup. But I think we’ve all talked about that in the past. We drafted Dame, we experimented the first year, then we found RoLo (Robin Lopez). And I think this past year I think we felt like we were closer to the 60% than we really were in a year where the West was, quite honestly, much more competitive than it had been the year prior. But I think getting Jusuf solidifies that position.”

On whether the Blazers will look to extend Nurkic’s contract this offseason:

“I haven’t even thought about it, honestly. Everybody’s a little raw. It was a weird ride, right? He kinda came in out of nowhere. He blew up and then got hurt. We gotta get guys healthy first and then get them all back in the gym and again see what we have. But I don’t talk about contract negotiations. Even when you saw some of the guys last year whether it was Moe (Harkless) or Meyers (Leonard), when we had deals done, we had deals done. But it didn’t play out in the media and it really wasn’t public.”

On whether the Blazers considered tanking instead of making a run for the No. 8 seed:

“Never. You can’t build a winning culture by losing. … I think we’re one of only six teams to make the playoffs in the last four years. And that’s not to tout it, because finishing eighth and getting beat in the first round in a sweep to Golden (State) isn’t something to beat your breast about when you’re comparing yourself to Golden and the Spurs, the upper echelon. But when you look at the reverse of that, when you look at some teams that have wallowed in the lottery … when you fall back into that and you accept that it becomes easier to stay there.”

Blazers Notes: Lillard, Durant, Draft

The Blazers made the playoffs this season, but Damian Lillard doesn’t consider that a success, as Chris Haynes of ESPN.com relays.

“We got tested, and I think we answered the bell,” the point guard said. “I felt like we showed our true colors by the way we fought. But I wouldn’t say successful. I think it was growth. A year of growth for us.”

The Warriors swept the Blazers in the opening round of the playoffs and Lillard understands that his team needs to beat Golden State if it’s going to win the Western Conference.

“You also got to understand that if you ever want to get out of the West, you’re going to have to go through them,” Lillard said. “And for me, I understand that’s what it is. It’s always been that way in the NBA. I think about when the Pistons were just beating up on [Michael] Jordan. [They] were just kicking his butt every year, and he had to get through them if he wanted to get to where he wanted to get to. That’s just what it is.

“[The Warriors are] going to be there. They’re going to be there every year. We have to look at that and understand that we got to be better. We have to go get better, and come back better as a group if we want to move past them.”

Here’s more from Portland:

  • Kevin Durant believes the Blazers are a few pieces away from contending for the conference’s crown, as Haynes passes along in the same piece. “I think they want somebody on the wing that can take the pressure off those two guards [C.J. McCollum and Lillard], somebody that’s big for their position. But they’re right there, man,” Durant said.
  • Breaking up McCollum and Lillard might be the only way the Blazers bring home the title, Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer contends. The scribe sees parallels in Portland’s current team and Golden State’s in 2012. The Warriors knew Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry couldn’t defend opposing backcourts at a top level and the team decided to trade Ellis away.
  • The Blazers acquired the No. 20 overall pick in the upcoming draft in the Jusuf Nurkic deal and that selection could be more important than the center, O’Connor argues in the same piece. Portland needs to find another piece to take the team from good to great and without cap space, the team will likely need to add that player through the draft. In addition to No. 20, the franchise also owns the No. 15 and No. 26 overall picks.

Jusuf Nurkic Expects Full Recovery In 2-3 Months

  • With his Trail Blazers out of the playoffs, there’s no longer any need for Jusuf Nurkic to rush his return. Nurkic said today during his exit interview with local media that he expects his leg injury to take about two to three months to heal, per Joe Freeman of The Oregonian (Twitter link).

Olshey: Trail Blazers Won’t Bring Back Festus Ezeli

Festus Ezeli‘s Trail Blazers career will end without him appearing in a single game for the team, according to general manager Neil Olshey, who confirmed today that Portland won’t be bringing back Ezeli for the 2017/18 season (link via Tim Brown of The Oregonian).

Ezeli, 27, signed a two-year deal worth about $15MM with the Blazers last summer, with Portland envisioning him as a rotation player who could provide rebounding and rim protection. However, Ezeli’s troublesome left knee kept him out of action in the preseason and then the regular season as well — the veteran center ultimately underwent a season-ending procedure in March.

As we outlined earlier today in our breakdown of this summer’s salary guarantee dates, Ezeli’s full $7.73MM salary for 2017/18 would become guaranteed if he remains on Portland’s roster beyond June 30. The Trail Blazers figure to waive him at some point before that date, which will leave the team on the hook for just $1MM of next season’s salary.

Although Ezeli will become a free agent when the Blazers officially waive him, he may not catch on with another team anytime soon. His knee surgery, which reportedly involved a cadaver donor, didn’t exactly sound like a routine procedure, but hopefully he’s able to eventually make it back onto the court and resume his playing career.

Nurkic Ruled Out For Game 4

After playing sparingly in Game 3, Jusuf Nurkic and the Trail Blazers have decided to shelve the big man once again. Per Mike Richman of the Oregonian, the Bosnian Beast will not play at all in Game 4.

He didn’t do any further damage,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of Nurkic playing through a fractured leg. “There was soreness, tenderness and it just wouldn’t be wise to have him play through that.

Jusuf Nurkic Will Play In Game 3

The Blazers will get Jusuf Nurkic back in Game 3, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reports (Twitter link). Nurkic, who suffered a fractured leg last month, will start, but he’ll see his minutes limited.

Nurkic came to the Blazers in a deadline deal for Mason Plumlee and the big man has thrived in his new environment. In 20 games with Portland (19 starts), he scored 15.2 points and pulled down 10.4 rebounds per game. The team went 14-6 with Nurkic in the lineup.

The center will be eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer. He’s making slightly over $1.92MM this year and he’s set to collect approximately $2.95MM next season.

Jusuf Nurkic To Miss Game 2 Vs. Warriors

The Trail Blazers and Warriors will play Game 2 of their series on Wednesday night, and both sides may be missing a key player. Jusuf Nurkic, who continues to recover from a fractured leg, announced today that he won’t play in Game 2 for the Blazers, per Joe Freeman of The Oregonian (Twitter link). Meanwhile, Kevin Durant, who recently returned from a knee injury, is now battling a left calf strain and was listed as questionable on the Warriors’ injury report today (Twitter link).

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