Nikola Vucevic’s goodbye is only for now, he will remain part of Orlando Magic forever

Nikola Vucevic made his debut for the Chicago Bulls but not before giving a heartfelt goodbye to the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Nikola Vucevic made his debut for the Chicago Bulls but not before giving a heartfelt goodbye to the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports /

Everyone admitted it was weird seeing Nikola Vucevic don a Chicago Bulls jersey.

The photos of him checking out his new jersey were weird enough, but seeing him in action with that same sweet hook shot and causing the defense headaches with his pick and roll play was just weird.

Fans thought it was weird and former teammates thought it was weird too.

It was hard for a lot of people. The Orlando Magic are striking out on a completely new path with a new plan and a completely revamped roster. All their best players will play major roles on teams in the playoff hunt.

Fans figured a shift was on the horizon with both Evan Fournier’s contract expiring and rumors picking up on Aaron Gordon’s value around the league. But Vucevic, who had been the rock of the franchise and whose emergence the last three years especially had firmly endeared him to fans even his biggest critics, was expected to still be around.

The connection had clearly been deeper than anyone imagined. Vucevic was still overcome with emotion even as he prepared for his first game with a new franchise. Orlando was still very much home.

Even as Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic go their separate ways, they will always be tied together. This goodbye will be temporary as the Magic begin to celebrate and honor Vucevic’s legacy.

The Magic have rarely parted with their star player on such good terms.

Shaquille O’Neal has at times gone out of his way to take potshots at the Magic and called Orlando a small pond on his way out the door — not that Orlando or the Magic did anything to make him feel wanted in that free agency.

Anfernee Hardaway also went scorched earth with his frustrations about his injuries boiling over — issues of race from the mid-90s likely played a role in media perception of Hardaway’s departure. Hardaway said on his return for the team’s 25th anniversary he was not even sure he would be welcomed back to town with the standing ovation he received.

Tracy McGrady clashed with his general manager and was frustrated enough to demand a trade out of his hometown. He still does not really hide his disdain for how things ended.

Dwight Howard’s waffling on his own trade request left fans twisting in the wind. Fans have not come close to forgiving him.

Time heals all wounds. But the scars on the franchise certainly remain.

The reason there are no jerseys hanging in the rafters is as much to do with the franchise’s decision to wait for a championship to “earn” the right to retire jerseys as it is with the rocky relationships the franchise, the fans and its best players have had.

That discussion picked up again as Magic fans begin to wrestle with Vucevic’s legacy and how best for the franchise to remember him. The shock of Thursday’s franchise-changing trade came from the unexpected nature of Vucevic’s departure.

Nobody was ready to have this discussion quite yet. And it still might be too early to fully dive into Vucevic and his legacy. History needs some time to set and breathe.

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  • Vucevic still has several years left in his career. He is not retiring any time soon. And fans should be hopeful they can fill the Amway Center to capacity to show Vucevic appreciation when the Bulls make their first trip to Orlando next season.

    There are very few players who would get that kind of immediate appreciation and ovation in Magic history — J.J. Redick’s first game against the Orlando Magic with the Milwaukee Bucks comes immediately and most recently to mind as did Jameer Nelson’s first game back in Orlando with the Denver Nuggets or perhaps Nick Anderson’s first time against his former team.

    Vucevic, through nine years with the team, became not just a beloved figure on the team but a beloved figure in the community. As he noted, leaving the people was probably as difficult as leaving the teammates and franchise he had largely played with for a decade.

    Change is tough for everyone, even if it is necessary. The emotions are still very raw as both Vucevic and the Magic plot separate paths forward.

    The discussion among fans has already started to turn toward how best to recognize Vucevic’s accomplishments.

    There was already a tinge of this discussion as Vucevic started climbing to the very top of several all-time marks. It was clear at this point that Vucevic had elevated from a simple top-10 player in Magic history to potential the best player outside the team’s Mt. Rushmore.

    Detractors will still point to Vucevic’s inability to lift the team beyond a mere playoff appearance. He will be the face of the worst run of Magic basketball in its short history.

    That is not all his fault. And it does not change how fans will feel or should feel about his tenure. But it is part of his legacy.

    The Magic have struggled with how to deal with their own history.

    They are one of the few teams have yet to retire a player’s jersey. They have resisted such honors because the team has not won a title yet it seems, opting instead to form a team Hall of Fame placed inside the arena.

    This has satisfied their own criteria for retiring jerseys if not completely satisfied fans who want the team’s history celebrated more front and center.

    What seems universally agreed upon is that if the Magic loosened their criteria to retire jerseys, Vucevic’s #9 should go up in the rafters — other certain names would include Nick Anderson (#25), Shaquille O’Neal (#32), Anfernee Hardaway (#1), Tracy McGrady (#1) and, eventually, Dwight Howard (#12).

    Among that group, only Anderson and McGrady have shown any real affection or desire to still be a part of the Orlando community beyond their place in the team’s history.

    Whether Vucevic similarly returns to the place where he said he went from a boy to a man is still to be seen. What plans the Magic have to honor him in the short term when the Bulls come to Orlando will have to wait for next season. And how they plan to honor him and his legacy will be a debate that goes on for a little while longer.

    Next. 3 goals for the Orlando Magic for the rest of the season. dark

    The one thing that is clear is that while Vucevic’s time playing for the Magic is over, his time in Orlando is not done. He will be with the franchise for a very long time to come.