The further away we get from the Nikola Vucevic trade from the Orlando Magic to the Chicago Bulls, the better it continues to look for the Magic. They received Wendell Carter, a pick that turned into Franz Wagner, and may yet get another lottery pick this coming summer.
This trade was made even more disastrous for the Bulls because they never made any significant postseason noise after the all in deals to acquire Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan, while their point guard Lonzo Ball has been injured essentially the entire time they have tried to win.
Vucevic is an unrestricted free agent this summer. And although the Bulls have his Bird rights, it remains to be seen if they would even want to bring him back, although they are largely expected to do so. Getting his $100 million deal off the books is helpful for them. And at this point, Vucevic’s limitations are pretty clear.
Still only 32 years old, and with the kind of offensive game that ages well away from the paint, is Nikola Vucevic the kind of big the Orlando Magic should want to add for the 2024 season?
Attempting to do this would be downright mean on the Bulls, having fleeced them already of a lottery pick and a genuine asset in Carter, only to then bring Vucevic back on a more team-friendly deal as well.
Taking that obviously hilarious element out of the equation however, and deciding whether or not to bring Vucevic back becomes a matter of if you you are thinking with your head or your heart.
We know the front office use their heads in these decisions, and it is great that they do. And so bringing back Vucevic does not make a lot of sense when you talk about building a contending roster.
He is far older than the core already in place, and will be either out of the league or close to it by the time the Magic reach true contention on their current trajectory. We have already experienced enough of Vucevic to know he has limitations too.
His defensive abilities were often too harshly maligned while he was with the Magic, but in the playoffs he is the not the kind of center who is able to keep opposing bigs quiet for long stretches of a game.
To bring Vucevic back, off the bench presumably to back up Carter, would still be running it back in a way we have seen before, and which would re-attach some sort of ceiling on the progress of the organization.
Less would be expected of Vucevic, but that would also mean giving him a deal in favor of looking at other areas that need to be strengthened. The shooting of Max Strus of the Miami Heat for example, is something that the franchise should be looking to put some money towards acquiring.
That does not tell the whole story though, and really there is actually a pretty compelling argument to get Vucevic back onboard again. He would quickly become the veteran leader of the group, a spot Terrence Ross occupied before being bought out at the deadline.
He knows what it means to play for the Magic and the standards required, and as a multiple time All-Star while with the organization, would be a fantastic sounding board for Wagner, Paolo Banchero and the rest of the team.
Vucevic is no slouch either, and if he were to play alongside Carter some, then we could see that polished offensive game which the Magic built two playoff level teams around in the past. Vucevic could enter the final phase of his career as much of a stretch four, leaving the banging to others.
He had his fair share of struggles with the Bulls, but Vucevic did shoot a shade worse than 35 percent form deep this season. At his height with the Magic, that number was around 40 percent, and there is no reason he can’t find a groove in between those two numbers once more.
The 17.6 points he averaged this season were certainly useful to the Bulls, and yet to watch them it was clear Vucevic was not being used in the right way offensively often. Markelle Fultz is a point guard who has played with Nikola Vucevic before, and would know how to get the best out of him.
This is now undoubtedly Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner’s team, and Nikola Vucevic would know this coming back. He is still 80 percent of the player he once was, but he would be asked to do about half as much as he did when he left.
He clearly loves the organization, and has spoken before about one day being an announcer and taking Jeff Turner’s job when his own playing career was finished.
Weighing this one up, and it is actually closer than you might think Continuing to move forward and forging a new identity under coach Jamahl Mosley making the most sense for this Magic team.
But if they strike out on their free agent targets, and if no trades of note come together, then they could do worse than bring back Nikola Vucevic for what would be more than a farewell tour. It would be a chance to play with better players and to give the Magic the rest of his prime.