Nothing but gratitude for Nikola Vucevic’s time with Orlando Magic

Nikola Vucevic struggled to get himself going in the post as the Orlando Magic fell to the Charlotte Hornets. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Nikola Vucevic struggled to get himself going in the post as the Orlando Magic fell to the Charlotte Hornets. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

If you are still reeling from the trade deadline, I cannot find any culpability on your part.

It was a tough pill to swallow for fans of the team. Myself included.

It was expected to be a busy trade deadline, but nothing like this. Not a complete franchise-changing project.

We expected the Magic to trade Evan Fournier on an expiring contract after he reportedly told Orlando’s front office that he was leaving in free agency. Meanwhile, nobody batted an eye after  Aaron Gordon demanded a trade within the last month.

Both were traded, as expected, to the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics. Those moves did not shake the league or the franchise as much as the huge bomb that started the day.

Orlando decided to go full nuclear on its roster and start a new rebuild.

The Magic decided to trade away their longest-tenured player in Nikola Vucevic to the Chicago Bulls along with Al-Farouq Aminu for two protected first-round picks, Wendell Carter and Otto Porter.

The Orlando Magic decided to restart their franchise and that included the decision to trade Nikola Vucevic, splitting with their center after nine years of ups and downs.

There will be ample time to analyze the trade and prognosticate the future, but let’s first ruminate about the past because this was a difficult departure. One that Vucevic was still feeling the emotions of even as he prepared for his first game with his new team.

Nikola Vucevic was easily the Magic’s best post-Dwight Howard player.

He made the All-Star team in two of the last three years and, objectively speaking, is one of the greatest players in franchise history.

Sure, he does not have the team success that Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, Nick Anderson and Dwight Howard had or the individual success that Tracy McGrady had in the Magic Kingdom. But much of that is on his supporting cast, ownership and front office, as opposed to him.

He ranks in the top ten and even top three in a plethora of pertinent categories. They are comprised of stats like rebounds (second), field goal percentage (sixth), blocks (third), win shares (third), games played (fourth) and of course points (third).

He was always one of the more underrated players across the league because he played in a small market on a team that struggled to build consistency, which is why many casual fans did not appreciate his production and durability.

Many Magic fans did not even know he was when he arrived. Let alone how to pronounce his name.

He made sure of both by the end of his tenure in black and blue.

Every year, he averaged double figures and all but two did he average double-digit boards. He even averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in two of his last three years. Five times he made more than half of his shots. He also knocked down both better than 35-percent of his attempts from behind the arc and 75-percent from the charity stripe those years.

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  • Above all, he only missed 14 games including the playoffs out of a possible 208 with the Magic during the last three years.

    Vucevic was nothing but class with the Magic, even as the team struggled to piece things around him or even try to push other players, even at his position past him.

    Orlando for much of his tenure seemed to take his consistency for granted. That is until Steve Clifford took over as coach and built an offense that recognized and took advantage of Vucevic’s passing and shooting skill.

    For once, the Magic did not end on bad terms with their All-Star player.

    Unlike most other notable great Magic players, such as McGrady, Hardaway, O’Neal and, most recently, Dwight Howard, whose trade to the Los Angeles Lakers ironically brought Vucevic to Orlando, Vucevic spoke glowingly of his time in Orlando and seemed genuinely hurt by the move, even if both he and the team understood it was time. Leaving was not an easy thing for Vucevic.

    We saw in his first interview with the Chicago Bulls how much the team and the city of Orlando meant to him. He was very emotional and had to gather himself before conveying his thoughts.

    This was definitely much harder for him to handle because he wanted to stay with this organization through thick and thin. Even when the team was rebuilding never with only a glimmer of hope, he never once considered going anywhere else.

    That is why Vucevic meant so much to this team and the fans. He was loyal to a fault in an era where many all-stars today are seeking their next team. He definitely made himself endearing to the team and the city.

    He was a big part of the Orlando community and it cannot be understated.

    If Orlando fans still have some bitterness towards Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon after their acrimonious departures and do not want them to succeed on their new teams, that is defensible. Neither gave anything less than their best despite all the uncertainty, delivering one final win on their way out the door.

    But it is hard not to wish Vucevic well in his future endeavors and root for him individually.

    Who knows? Maybe Orlando will win this trade.

    Somebody like Carter is only 21 and likely needed a change of scenery to succeed. Even Porter could be decent down the stretch in a contract.

    Not to mention, the Magic will have two first-round picks in this year’s draft most likely in the top 20.

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    Still, fans and even journalists cannot help but get sentimental when thinking of a guy who was a huge contributor for a long time in pinstripes and now that era is eradicated for good. It will not be the same without Vucevic. That much is certain.