Orlando Magic Trade Deadline: Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets look like early trade partners

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Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic, Tristan Thompson, Boston Celtics
The Orlando Magic could not find their shot as they fell to the Boston Celtics on the road. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics have enjoyed a fairly underwhelming start to the NBA season. Like most teams, they have had to battle COVID-19 issues but will likely still finish in the top five of the Eastern Conference.

While Jaylen Brown’s incredible leap and Jayson Tatum’s continued excellence already gives the team a great chance of making a deep playoff run, it still feels as though they are one piece away from seriously contending for the title.

Kemba Walker has not looked himself for most of this season, averaging 16.3 points per game and shooting at a rate of just 36.3-percent. There is still plenty of time for him to get back to his best but regardless of whether or not he does, the Celtics adding another talent could cement the team’s place as a serious contender.

Boston has a monster $28.5-million trade exception created from the sign-and-trade deal which sent Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets. The team’s general manager, Danny Ainge, has already expressed his desire to add “shooting with size” and it would be unsurprising to see the Celtics do some activity before the trade market closes.

If shooting with size is the target, the Orlando Magic have an incredible shooting big man in Nikola Vucevic that could appeal to Ainge.

Boston Celtics
Boston Celtics /

Boston Celtics

Nikola Vucevic has been playing at an All-Star level this season, averaging 24 points per game, and has put an injury-hit Magic team on his back with some incredible performances. The Orlando Magic have won two of the last five games, against the Chicago Bulls and Sacramento Kings, with the center scoring a career-high 43 and then 42 to drag his team to victory.

The Orlando Magic’s center has had to play some serious minutes in recent games, including 41 in the defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers. Injuries to key players like Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and even rookie Cole Anthony have left Nikola Vucevic with little support. He is single-handedly keeping his team in the hunt for a play-in spot.

The Magic know how important Vucevic is. Trading him away would likely put the team in contention for the league’s worst record this year and presents a huge risk, given he is the team’s first All-Star since Dwight Howard left, and looks in line for a second trip in three years.

Boston would not give back anyone who can do what Vucevic is doing at this moment. But the Celtics have some tempting assets that could be acquired.

Marcus Smart is an elite perimeter defender with the ability to contribute on offense too. The Celtics will not want to lose him, but he simply has to be part of any deal for Vucevic even if he is currently sidelined with a calf injury.

Tatum and Brown are off the table completely but there is an opportunity to acquire a young talent like Aaron Nesmith, who may have made a slow start to his NBA career but was an elite shooter at the college level, and Robert Williams who has shown promise at the center position with his efficiency and ability to protect the rim.

Other options include Payton Pritchard and Grant Williams. A combination of these young talents with Smart and possibly another veteran like Daniel Theis or Tristan Thompson along with draft picks and the Magic are getting back some good assets for the future.

The other direction would be to try and acquire Kemba Walker.

But given his recent injury history and huge $34.3-million salary combined with the fact that Orlando has two exciting young point guards in Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony, this makes as much sense as limiting Mohamed Bamba’s playing time when he is one of the only healthy players remaining.

Trading Vucevic would signal at least a small rebuild for the Magic. Keeping him around and pairing him with a healthy Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac next season is an enticing prospect but for Boston, Vucevic could be the missing piece needed to make the finals.

Another player the Magic has to offer the Celtics is Aaron Gordon. His shooting had improved before his injury but he does not exactly fit the “shooting with size” description Ainge is interested in.

What Gordon does offer though is excellent defense combined with the ability to score. He would allow Boston to play small with Brown and Tatum at the wing positions while establishing one of the best perimeter defences in the league.

The return for Gordon would not be as high as Vucevic but Orlando should at least try for Smart and a young prospect or future draft pick if they want to reach a deal to send him to the Celtics.

Boston cannot offer immediate equal value for either Vucevic or Gordon but could allow the Magic to head towards more of a reset or rebuild should the team’s strategy switch from trying to make the playoffs this year.