The Orlando Magic have several big decisions to make this offseason to determine the direction of the team, including on the future of Nikola Vucevic.
Nikola Vucevic has been the Orlando Magic’s best player and number one option on offense under Steve Clifford, making the All-Star game in 2019 while averaging 20.8 points per game. Despite failing to make back-to-back All-Star games, his 19.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game helped Orlando reach the playoffs again last season.
The 30-year-old has been the focal point on a flawed offense, demonstrating his ability by dragging the Magic to a surprise Game 1 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in last season’s playoffs with a monster 35-point performance. He averaged 28 points per game during the series, redeeming himself from a poor 2019 playoff debut.
He is a prime example of a modern center and has been a fantastic player for the Magic.
But following two straight years of first-round exits, Orlando needs to find a way forward. Nikola Vucevic is not blessed with the gift of youth. And his game does not perfectly fit the Magic’s desire to play more up-tempo and more focused on defense.
After his stellar postseason, his trade value is high and he could play a big role on a contending team.
The front office must either put the right talent around him or move in a new direction. Trading away Vucevic would signal a reset for the franchise and comes with significant risk given he was the team’s first All-Star since Dwight Howard.
Orlando also drafted a promising young center in Mohamed Bamba in 2018 who has seen his game time and development limited so far. This is not all down to or the fault of Vucevic who has dominated the minutes at the 5-spot. But Bamba needs more time on the court to grow. He needs a clearer pathway to minutes.
The Magic just need to be a better team overall. And Vucevic is still their best player on that front.
With Vucevic having reached his peak and the team seemingly stuck in a low playoff spot, the Magic could use his trade value to take the team forward. But it may not be all that easy to do.
The potential problems
Nikola Vucevic has three years left on his current contract at $26 million next season followed by $24 million and then $22 million. Whichever team Vucevic is traded to would need the cap space and have to be completely sold on the impact he would have.
For the Magic, it means they would have to acquire a player or players that equate to the value of his contract since the team is currently over the salary cap. The front office might have to commit big to another player or take on a few sizable contracts which could be difficult to shift.
Players on Vucevic’s salary that are both worth trading for and on the market are not exactly common. It is all very well working on the basis of trading Vucevic for a player you think will take the team to the next level but this might not be possible.
Orlando could instead decide to focus on picks as the point of the trade and build for the future. But the difficulty of acquiring assets to the extent of Vucevic’s contract still remains, while there is no guarantee of success through the draft.
The front office could use Vucevic to try and acquire a high draft pick in this year’s draft. But there are serious doubts over the quality and potential of the class while trading for future picks is a risky strategy that comes with lots of uncertainty.
Vucevic is a very good player, but he is not the multiple-time All-Star teams might want for his kind of money. He does a lot of things well including shooting the ball, averaging a respectable 33.9-percent from three, and he is one of the league’s best passing big men with an average of 3.6 assists per game. His rebound numbers are also solid.
But despite his talent as a multi-skilled center, Vucevic is not known for his defensive ability despite his steady improvement with age. He is not in the league’s top tier of players but his ability to score and stretch the floor is a huge asset in today’s NBA. The question is whether that is enough to get the Magic the sort of trade they will be looking for.
There are likely to be takers if Vucevic is on the trade market this summer but there are plenty of potential difficulties when it comes to reaching a deal that works for both sides.
Vooch would be a big miss should he leave and it could end up backfiring on the Magic. But if the front office does want to take a risk this offseason, here are some potential trade options.
Eds. Note: The deals proposed here are for instances and examples of what it might take to acquire these players. They do not reflect any actual reporting or indication either team is interested in such a deal.