Portland Trail Blazers

Jusuf Nurkic Wants To Get Fully Healthy Before Returning

  • Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, a restricted free agent at season’s end, has been sidelined since last Tuesday with a sprained right ankle and wants to get back to 100% before he returns, tweets Jason Quick of NBC Sports Northwest. Nurkic suggested that it’d be better to miss one extra game than to rush back, aggravate the injury, and miss 15 games.

X-Rays Negative On Jusuf Nurkic's Ankle

  • Big man Jusuf Nurkic has been out of action for the Trail Blazers since injuring his ankle on Tuesday but X-rays have come back negative, an ESPN report says. There is currently no timetable for his return.

Embiid Bonus Could Affect Sixers’ Cap Space

Joel Embiid‘s strong start could lead to a bonus that would affect the Sixers’ ability to compete on the free agent market next summer, writes Bobby Marks of ESPN.

The second-year center signed a five-year extension over the summer that has a base value of $146MM, but could rise as high as $178MM if he reaches certain benchmarks. That includes a hefty bonus if he is named Most Valuable Player or earns first-team All-NBA honors this season. Embiid, who came into tonight averaging 22.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, is certainly a candidate to make the All-NBA team at center, especially with the injury to Rudy Gobert and the move of Anthony Davis to power forward.

The bonus would raise Embiid’s cap hit from $25.3MM to $30.3MM for 2018/19 and would cost Philadelphia $5MM in cap space for each subsequent year of the contract. The Sixers have nearly $32MM in projected cap room right now, not counting $1.6MM team options for T.J. McConnell and Richaun Holmes, so $5MM could affect their ability to offer a full max contract.

Emiid’s contract also contains a minutes clause that could boost his future earnings. He can make his contract fully guaranteed starting in 2020/21 or 2021/22 if he plays at least 1,650 minutes in three consecutive years or three out of four starting with this season. He has accumulated 532 minutes in 18 games, putting him on pace to reach that figure for this year.

Marks passes on a few other tidbits related to contract incentives:

  • The punch from Bobby Portis that hospitalized Nikola Mirotic has cost the Bulls forward $1MM in bonuses. Mirotic had four benchmarks valued at $250K each, and although each was unlikely, he needed to play 65 games to be eligible and he has already missed 20.
  • Nets guard Jeremy Lin, who played just one game this season before needing knee surgery, missed a chance to earn several bonuses worth $750K.
  • Nuggets forward Paul Millsap has a $500K incentive for making the All-Star team, which is impossible after wrist surgery that will keep him sidelined until after the February 18 game. Millsap had been an All-Star the past four seasons in the East. He also would receive a $150K bonus for playing 65 games and averaging seven rebounds per 36 minutes, but that’s out of reach because of the injury. He can still get $150K if the Nuggets make the playoffs, but for now his cap hit for next season will be cut from $29.7MM to $29.2MM.
  • Gobert took the biggest hit because of injury, which could cost him up to $2MM. The Jazz center, who is not expected back until the middle of the month because of a bone bruise in his right knee, had a pair of $250K incentives based on 67 games played, along with a $500K bonus for being named first team All-Defense and $1MM for making the All-Star game.
  • Hawks center Dewayne Dedmon needs his scoring and rebounding averages to total more than 16 to collect a $900K bonus. He was at 11.1 PPG and 7.8 RPG before his recent injury.
  • The Trail Blazers could see a smaller luxury tax bill if Maurice Harkless continues to struggle with his three-point shot. Currently shooting 24.3% from distance, Harkless needs to reach 35% at the end of the season to get a $500K bonus. If he falls short, Portland’s tax bill will dip from $4.3MM to $3.5MM.

Aminu Ready To Return From Ankle Injury

  • The Trail Blazers will welcome forward Al-Farouq Aminu back Thursday night after missing 13 games with a sprained right ankle, relays Casey Holdahl of NBA.com. Portland expected Aminu to return in two to three weeks after he suffered the injury in a November 1 game, but he wound up missing almost the entire month. “It felt good to be back out there with the guys,” Aminu said after today’s practice. “Being able to contribute is always a good thing.”

Grizzlies Rumors: Gasol, Fizdale, Next Steps

Although Marc Gasol expressed displeasure with his fourth-quarter benching on Sunday, there was no “him-or-me” mandate from Gasol to Grizzlies management that led to David Fizdale‘s ouster on Monday, league sources tell Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link).

The Grizzlies’ decision to fire Fizdale did create the impression that the team was choosing Gasol over its head coach, but it may not be that simple, writes Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. Prior to Fizdale’s dismissal, speculation about a possible Gasol trade was beginning to gain steam. If the club had retained Fizdale and Gasol’s frustration led to a trade demand, it would have become more difficult for Memphis to move him. By avoiding that scenario, the Grizzlies can ensure that the veteran’s center trade value remains high, if they decide to consider that possibility.

“I don’t think [the Grizzlies] are done making changes,” one league executive told Deveney on Monday. “They could still move Gasol, they could still go into a rebuilding situation, but it would be harder if Gasol was saying he wants out. They have had plenty of offers for Gasol, and they have a couple of months to sort out whether they pull the trigger. But don’t be surprised if they do, even after this.”

Here’s more on the Grizzlies:

  • The Celtics and Raptors are among the clubs that could be suitors for Gasol if the Grizzlies entertain offers, according to both Deveney and Forbes’ Mitch Lawrence. Lawrence identifies the Cavaliers and Trail Blazers as other teams that would have interest in the three-time All-Star. It would be tricky for some of those teams to put together viable packages for Gasol and his $22.6MM+ salary.
  • Fizdale had the support of many of the Grizzlies’ younger players, so his firing may widen a divide between the youngsters and the veterans on Memphis’ roster, says Deveney. The Sporting News scribe also observes that Fizdale is exactly the kind of positive coach and teacher a team would want during a rebuild, meaning the Grizzlies may miss him if they go in that direction.
  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer lays out the case for why a full-fledged rebuild might make the most sense for the Grizzlies at this point.
  • While much has been made of Gasol’s role in Fizdale’s firing, former NBA swingman and current ESPN analyst Stephen Jackson set his sights on Chandler Parsons. As AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today details, Jackson suggested that the lack of production the Grizzlies have received from a max-salary player like Parsons put Fizdale at a major disadvantage.

No Return Imminent For Aminu; McCollum Can Step Up As Closer

Lillard Enjoying Mentorship With Nurkic

Damian Lillard has become the face of the Trail Blazers and one of the most dynamic point guards in the NBA. By the same token, the 27-year-old has taken on a mentorship role with Portland, specifically with young center Jusuf Nurkic. In a well-written piece by NBC Sports Northwest’s Jason Quick, Lillard’s relationship with Nurkic is highlighted in comparison to Lillard’s relationship with the departed LaMarcus Aldridge.

For his part, Nurkic said that Lillard is “the best thing that has happened to me in my life.’’ Thus far, Nurkic’s career in Portland has been strong as he’s averaging 14.3 PPG and 7.2 RPG through the Trail Blazers’ first 17 games. In Lillard’s view, Nurkic has a high ceiling and he wants to do his part to help him reach it.

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.”

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