When news broke that the Trail Blazers had traded guard Allen Crabbe to the Nets in exchange for power forward Andrew Nicholson, one of the instant headlines was that the move would save Portland roughly $44 million in luxury tax payments this season. The corresponding assumption was that greatly decreasing their luxury tax bill was done, at least in part, with an eye toward Jusuf Nurkić’s impending free agency in 2018. As in, if Portland hopes to sign Nurkić long term when he hits restricted free agency (Nurkic and the team could agree on an extension prior to that and thus avoiding free agency all together), as most assume they intend on doing, getting money off the books now is the best way to avoid a truly staggering luxury tax payment when the first year of that theoretical contract comes due, because it’s going to be pricey.
And it could get even pricier depending on how the 7-0 Bosnian performs during the 2017-18 season. Case in point: ESPN’s Kevin Pelton ranks Nurkić 14th in the star-studded 2018 free agent class, with the caveat being that if he plays anywhere close to as well as he did during his first 20 gamnes with the team, that ranking is probably way too low…
If he plays a full season like his first two months in Portland — which saw him average 18.7 points, 12.8 rebounds and a surprising 3.9 blocks per 36 minutes — Nurkic could jump ahead of the other 2014 first-round picks, save Embiid. Given how poorly he responded in Denver when asked to back up Jokic, Nurkic still needs to prove he can be a good team player for a full season to maximize his value.
(For reference, Pelton has Nikola Jokic ranked 4th and Joel Embiid ranked 9th.)
Nurkić is ranked behind Rockets center Clint Capela at 13th and ahead of Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins at 15th. Other notable names behind Nurkić in Pelton’s ranking include Jabari Parker (16th), Kentavious Caldwell Pope (19th), Carmelo Anthony (22nd) and LaMarcus Aldridge (23rd).