The Denver Nuggets’ newest addition will be a restricted free agent this summer. Mason Plumlee, who Denver acquired from Portland over the weekend in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, can field offers from other teams after this season’s over. Denver has the right to match any of those offers.
If it comes to that, expect the Nuggets to pony up for the fourth-year big man out of Duke.
“He’s here for the long term,” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said Monday morning.
“The deal was not done just for today. The deal was done for years moving forward. We think having his restricted rights, having the ability to get to know him, him getting to know us is important. Looking at our free agent board, he was a guy we had circled early in the process. And quite frankly we weren’t confident we could get him without a move like this.”
The Nuggets, who are in a tight battle for the Western Conference’s last playoff spot, don’t view Plumlee as a stop-gap solution to helping them end their playoff drought. Instead, Denver sees Plumlee as a key piece who can grow alongside the team’s young core in the years moving forward.
The trade was made official Monday morning. Denver swapped 22-year-old center Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first-round pick for the 26-year-old Plumlee and a 2018 second rounder.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he envisions Plumlee playing center minutes when Nikola Jokic sits as well as playing the two together in stretches.
“His versatility, his athleticism, his I.Q., his playmaking, his rim presence defensively. He brings a lot of things to the table where he can complement the players we have,” Malone said. “I think he can play with Nikola as well as behind Nikola. And that’s something that sold me on the potential of that deal.”
The Nuggets’ offense has become more dependent on passing, cutting and movement since Jokic became the starting center in mid-December. Denver has the second-best offense in basketball in that time. Malone added that acquiring Plumlee will help Denver play that brand of basketball even when Jokic needs rest.
“When Nikola is off the floor, we try to play the same. But we don’t have another Nikola Jokic,” Malone said. “I think what Mason Plumlee brings is he’s another big who can play high post, low post, elbows. Tremendous athlete. He runs the floor. He plays above the rim at times. It will be great to have almost the synergy of playing the same way with two bigs who are capable of playing the same type of ways. That’s one thing we really liked. We feel we have two of the best passing bigs in the NBA right now.”
Plumlee is averaging 4.0 assists to go along with 11.1 points and 8.0 rebounds this season. He averages 5.1 assists per 36 minutes, which is an excellent mark for a big man.
“I think when you look at his athleticism, he’s able to recover a lot better than a lot of traditional fives. And I think his playmaking is very unique, Connelly said. “While he’s not a guy who’s going to step away and make a lot of shots, he masks that well with his cutting, his rolling and his playmaking. He’s not a post-dominant guy, so he’ll keep the middle open. That’s consistent with what we’ve been doing since the lineup change. He’s here for the long-term. What’s great about restricted rights and having a ton of money it’s up to us to keep him. I think he’s a guy who’ll add to an already strong core.”
The Nuggets currently have the most cap space in the NBA, according to Spotrac.com. It’s a good bet that some of it will go toward keeping Plumlee on the roster this summer.
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