Jusuf Nurkic’s future with the Portland Trail Blazers would be in doubt even if he wasn’t the subject of frequent trade rumors leading up to the deadline. He’s a free agent this summer, and it wouldn’t shock if Portland’s new decision-making regime preferred going after a more versatile, athletic center to bringing back Nurkic on another multi-year deal worth eight figures annually.
But Nurkic has been the Blazers’ defensive bellwether all season despite his suboptimal fit in Chauncey Billups’ system, and largely impressed of late while moonlighting as an offensive focal point with Damian Lillard sidelined. There’s a legitimate case to be made Portland should plan for the future with Nurkic as its franchise center.
Possibly less certain in wake of Friday’s cost-cutting trade with the LA Clippers, though? Nurkic’s interest in continuing his career with the Blazers. After his team was blown out 137-108 by the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night at Moda Center, its fifth straight loss, Nurkic didn’t exactly express confidence in Portland’s current direction.
“Umm, I would say [it’s] interesting,” he said.
The Blazers primary objective in moving Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Clippers was shedding future salary and ducking the luxury tax this season. Both Billups and interim general manager Joe Cronin even admitted as much on Friday, touting the additional “flexibility” the deal provides Portland going forward.
Nurkic has long insisted his main goal is winning. Forgive the assumption he’d be dismayed by a trade that so clearly prioritizes long-term success. Ever loyal to Lillard, though, Nurkic instead realizes the context of the Blazers deciding to effectively rebuild on the fly.
“When you understand the point, at least what they’re trying to do, I think they’re going in the direction to win,” he said of Portland’s approach at the deadline. “Maybe sometimes take one step back to go two forwards. When you at it just as a fan, do you like it? Maybe not. But I think bigger picture, obviously they tried to free some money so they can sign players they want. I feel the same about it because I know Dame is here, and I know as long as Dame is here they’re gonna want to win.”
Nurkic has always maintained he wants to play next to Lillard as long as possible. With the best player in franchise history fully committed to Rip City, at least for now, expect Nurkic to push for a return in free agency—assuming he’s still a Blazer past the trade deadline, of course.