Nikola Vucevic’s cameo in the All-Star Game last year was nice. But it is the Orlando Magic’s young players are next in line for the Sunday game.
He arrived in Charlotte for the All-Star Weekend still unsure of his place in the league. He was there to enjoy the moment. His son, only a few months old, made the trip to share the moment with his father. The Magic’s playoff run had not yet kicked into high gear.
Nikola Vucevic made the All-Star Game on the strength of his statistics and consistency. Teams did not yet know the Magic were going to make a run to the playoffs. And the rest of the NBA world was a mixture of, “He deserves this for a great season” and “Who?” Andre Drummond and D’Angelo Russell (later added to the roster as an injury replacement) were not thrilled.
Vucevic was never going to make a mark in his first All-Star Game. It is not his kind of contest. And centers rarely shine in these games.
Vucevic played 11:58 in the game, making both of his field goals for four points and grabbing five rebounds. It was OK if he faded into the background. The broadcasters even identified him wrong on his first make.
Just being there was the point for Vucevic. But it always felt like it was going to be a flash in the pan.
There are very few players who make multiple All-Star Games after making their All-Star debut at 28 years or older — Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol are the most notable. Vucevic would not only have to match last year’s career numbers but also lead his team into the elite of the Eastern Conference.
It was easy this offseason to turn focus to someone else. It was largely assumed Vucevic had reached his peak and was not a firm part of the Magic’s future anyway.
The focus for the Magic to get an All-Star in 2020 turned to Aaron Gordon. The rising 24-year-old forward had knocked on the door two years ago and displayed a more complete game in 2019 during the Magic’s playoff run. He added to that story with a strong playoff showing.
But that never materialized. Like Vucevic, he regressed statistically. More dramatically, Aaron Gordon has struggled to shoot.
While the Magic are still a playoff-caliber team in a struggling Eastern Conference, they are not a team with a clearly defined pecking order or star. Certainly not yet one that will map out the team’s future.
Coach Steve Clifford has said it numerous times this season. The Magic are not a team that has one guy the team can dump the ball to and get a basket. As Clifford has described it numerous times, the Magic execute their sets well but it is simply making a play and winning one on one where the team sometimes hits a rut.
That all gets cured with a star. Someone who can attract a double team and requires defensive attention for every moment he is on the floor.
The Magic are certainly still searching for that star. They did not have one this year, a sign of their struggles to take the next step forward.
Undoubtedly the Magic will need a star to take that leap forward. It is a chicken or an egg problem — does winning create a star or does a star create winning? The answer is a bit of both. And the Magic will have to develop their next star.
The All-Star Game next year in Indianapolis will be a big one for the Magic. They will likely try to make some major changes to the roster. It is hard to predict what this team will look like moving forward.
But Orlando will hope to be back in the playoff race again next year. And hope for one of these players to emerge as the team’s next star.