Orlando Magic must choose between trading Nikola Vucevic or getting him more offensive help

Nikola Vucevic led the Orlando Magic back to the playoffs wearing a new version of the Magic's space jersey. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Nikola Vucevic led the Orlando Magic back to the playoffs wearing a new version of the Magic's space jersey. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

Over the last two seasons, Nikola Vucevic has proven to be the Orlando Magic’s most potent offensive talent. The 2020 season was confirmation of his 2019 All-Star run.

Nikola Vucevic made his first All-Star appearance in the 2019 campaign, averaging 20.8 points per game. But he still left the season a bit empty.

As good and consistent as he was throughout the season, helping lead the Orlando Magic to its first Playoff appearance in his seven years with the team, he did not perform well on the Playoff stage. His11.2 points per game on a 38.8-percent effective field goal percentage were a bitter disappointment as the Magic bowed out of the postseason in five games.

The Magic reached that important milestone, but Nikola Vucevic fell short on that big stage. This season he seemed determined to make up for it and establish the franchise he had played for so long for with the stability it lacked early in his career.

After getting through early injuries and despite not making it back to All-Star weekend this past season, Vucevic still averaged 19.6 points per game and shot 47.7 percent from the field. He rounded into All-Star form by the end of the season — even averaging 20.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in the seeding round games inside the NBA campus.

The Magic returned to the Playoffs. But the postseason was his golden goose. This is where he had to prove himself and prove he was worth his still-fresh four-year, $100-million contract.

His performances in the postseason against the Milwaukee Bucks were nothing short of superb. He was key to everything positive the Magic did, scoring 35 points in the Game 1 victory and averaging 28.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game with a 58.6-percent effective field goal percentage during the five-game series.

No one could say the Magic lost that series because of Vucevic’s efforts. The main conclusion was injuries had gutted the Magic too much to make the series more competitive.

Vucevic played with a clear sense of purpose. When those around him struggled or looked void of ideas, the 29-year-old led the way with his composure and clinical shooting, making 40.9-percent of his three-point attempts.

He has established himself as the Magic’s best player and his trade value is as high as it has ever been, possibly as high as it ever will be.

It leaves the Magic with a decision to make.

This offseason, everyone senses the Magic will need to make changes to break through its ceiling and get out of the first round. President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has already said every option is on the table.

And that will include the team’s star in Vucevic.

He could be used as part of a big trade should the franchise want to go down a different path to try and improve offensively following two straight years of first-round exits. They still do have Mohamed Bamba developing on the bench behind him.

On the other hand, with the right pieces around him, he could help Orlando make significant strides forward.

The Magic have big decisions on a lot of players as they enter the trade market. Vucevic will be among them. And every decision will play a role in what happens next for this franchise.

Trading Vucevic

Opting to trade Nikola Vucevic would require serious thought and strategic planning. It would essentially be hitting reset on the franchise and turning over to a new era.

Nikola Vucevic is the first All-Star the Orlando Magic have had since Dwight Howard in the 2012 season. So any trade would need to include someone of Vucevic’s quality, someone the front office believes will get there very soon, or valuable draft picks.

A big talking point this offseason will be what the Golden State Warriors do with their second pick in the draft. Having finished with the worst record in the NBA due to missing superstar guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson through injury, Golden State will now turn its attention towards trying to win more titles before the end of their careers.

This means the Warriors could opt to trade their pick away for someone who will help them right now. Given Vucevic’s ability to stretch the floor and knock down threes at the center position, he could certainly have a positive impact on Steve Kerr’s proficient team.

But only if the Magic front office feels that one of the top prospects this draft (likely Anthony Edward, LaMelo Ball or James Wiseman at No. 2) will improve the franchise over the course of the next couple of seasons should the trade be made. All have undeniable talent, but there is no one with the hype of a Zion Williamson or Ja Morant.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The other option is to trade for a talent of Vucevic’s quality. The Magic have been a solid team defensively under Steve Clifford, ranking 10 this past season for defensive rating, giving up 109.2 points per 100 possessions. But they have a serious lack of offensive talent with their offensive rating at 107.9 points per 100 possessions, 23rd in the league.

They struggled especially when it comes to shooting from beyond the arc.

Orlando ranked 25th for three-point percentage with 34.3 percent and 22nd for three-pointers made a game with 11.1. It is something the front office must look to address if the team is to improve.

Vucevic, while a capable three-point shooter himself, could be used in a trade to strengthen in this area. There could be at least a few shooters available on this market.

One name that has been discussed among Magic supporters is Sacramento Kings shooting guard Buddy Hield. The 27-year-old is an elite three-point shooter, making 39.4 percent of his attempts this past season and averaged 19.2 points per game. There are plenty of targets the Magic could go after this offseason if they decide to look at trade options for Vucevic and an accomplished shooter should be the target if that is the case.

This is expected to be an active trade market. It is not yet clear which players will be available. And the Magic themselves as they decide what to do with their team for 2021 could end up being major players in that market with several veterans like Vucevic who would be attractive for contending teams.

The Magic of course already have a good 3-point shooter in Evan Fournier at shooting guard, but his playoff struggles and the wait to see whether he takes up his player option for next season have left question marks over his future with the franchise.

Trading Vucevic would also mean more game time for the sixth pick in the 2018 draft, Mohamed Bamba. The center has yet to truly make his mark on this team and averaged just 14.2 minutes per game last season. The Magic need to find a way to start getting the best out of Bamba’s potential as an elite rim protector.

However, with Bamba having caught COVID-19 earlier this year and leaving the NBA Campus early due to struggling with his conditioning as well as having limited game time in his first two seasons, the 22-year-old is unlikely to be able to assume the minutes that would be left behind by Vucevic.

Another proven center would be needed along with Bamba if Vucevicwere to depart.

The Magic philosophically believe young teams improve more in winning environments. And it seems it would be difficult to trade the team’s best player without a significant return — or significant confidence Bamba is ready to start.

As much as the Magic may need a reset, trading Vucevic may not be the reset they need.

Building around Vucevic

Last season was Nikola Vucevic’s eighth with the franchise following his rookie year with the Philadelphia 76ers. He signed a new four-year, $100-million contract in 2019 and has three years left on his current deal with the franchise.

After a scoring dip over the 2017 and 2018 season, he has since established himself as Orlando’s best player and has been the main factor behind breaking a six-year run outside of the playoffs.

On this basis, it would seem a strange move to lose someone who has had such a positive impact on his team. Vucevic’s work in the paint accompanied by his shooting ability is hugely valuable to a team that lacks offense.

It is clear Vucevic needs help offensively. The team is competent defensively with Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon at the forward sports, though Steve Clifford will be left with a dilemma next season with Isaac out for the year after tearing his ACL.

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  • Markelle Fultz is still developing his game but is showing promise and while Evan Fournier proved to be a good second option offensively during the regular season, his playoff form suggested otherwise.

    Losing Vucevic to try and improve this team in the long run would be an enormous risk. Too many times have we seen teams try and capitalize on their best player’s trade value in an attempt to improve their chances only for it to backfire.

    At 29, Vucevic still has a few good years left. He has shown he can be consistent and can perform in the big games, something which was debated after his disappointing playoff series against the Toronto Raptors in 2019.

    Finding a way to put good shooters around Vucevic may be the way forward for this franchise. The Miami Heat looked to be in a precarious position not that long ago but through finding the likes of Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro to partner their other talented players, they have improved significantly.

    Drafting talent is, of course, the most cost-effective way to build a team but this comes with a tremendous amount of uncertainty and requires some excellent scouting. If the Magic are truly serious about improving and want Vucevic to be a part of that, they may need to give up some other valuable assets, such as Aaron Gordon for example, to get there.

    Vucevic’s ability is unquestionable but to move forward the Magic must either try to put better offensive players around him or use him in a trade. Otherwise, the franchise faces standing still or perhaps moving backwards.

    The one thing the Magic cannot do with Vucevic or any of their players is stand still. They must pick a path forward and build for it. Keeping Vucevic should mean the team is trying to continue its winning ways and so it must support him.

    Trading him away would mean the Magic are entering something of a rebuild and they must have a clear purpose and vision for what that team will look like.

    Next. A shifting depth chart reveals Orlando Magic's holes. dark

    In the end, that is what the Magic need more than anything else — a vision for the kind of team they want to be. And whether they keep Vucevic or not, they must stick to that vision.